The precipitation, that’s why. We had a whopping 50 percent more snow than normal, along with more gloomy, cloudy weather. Moreover, we never got an extended “break” – where the temperature went far above normal for a few days at a time. For example, late March and early April have normal highs of around 50 degrees. Most years we’ll get several days when it’s 20 degrees warmer than this, when we can blissfully preview some short-sleeve conditions and the robins aren’t muttering. Not this time.
The culprit: La Niña. That Pacific Ocean anomaly is famous for giving us higher precipitation and cooler weather than normal. That’s in contrast to El Niño years, which often happen 12 to 36 months after a sunspot maximum (which would mean 2015) and which produce higher temperatures than usual.
But what about global warming? Where is it? Why aren’t we reaping some reward for letting our country get 45 percent of its power from coal? First, greenhouse gases show themselves not as a rise in daytime highs, but rather as a rise in our nighttime lows. Our region has an average low of around 12 degrees during the dead of winter. Now, think back to this past January and February. Did we go much below that – ever? No, we did not. Those old-fashioned winters, when nights would sometimes fall to minus-20 degrees and we’d get at least several below-zero nights every winter – where were they? We did not go below zero even once this entire winter. If this was an example of a “cold” winter, what will a warm one be like?
According to the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with whom I spent a few days last year, our region will suffer the most minimal global warming effects of the entire US. And it will manifest almost completely as a rise in our winter lows. Our summers should stay the same as they are now. Our rainfall should stay the same, too, or perhaps even increase a bit. But our winter minima – again, currently around 12 degrees – are projected to rise to around 20 degrees by century’s end.
Carbon sneaks in and does its mischief at night. We sleep through it. So blame this miserable winter on La Niña – that, plus the fact that the recent deep solar minimum, unseen for over a century, counterbalanced global warming and kept us pretty much “normal” except for the very high snowfall this past season.
Our winter tendencies often come in twos or threes, but once we’re out of the current pattern, the combination of solar maximum in 2013 and El Niño after that ought to deliver much more pleasant winters for us. Don’t move just yet.