Weird weather pattern turns conditions wacky in U.S.
Seattle – — A weather pattern partly linked with El Nino has turned winter upside-down across the U.S. during a week of heavy holiday travel, bringing spring-like warmth to the Northeast, a risk of tornadoes in the South and so much snow across the West that even skiing slopes have been overwhelmed.
In a reversal of a typical Christmas, forecasters expect New York to be in the mid-60s on the holiday — several degrees higher than Los Angeles.
The mild conditions have helped golf courses in New England do brisk business, but the pattern comes at a steep cost for ski resorts that have closed and for backcountry skiers who confront avalanche risks. And many Americans complain that it just doesn’t feel like the holidays without a chill in the air.
“It’s been a great snow season so far from the Rockies to the higher elevations in the Cascades and the northern Sierras, and it’s been the total opposite on the East Coast,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.
Big parts of the county are basking in above-average temperatures, especially east of the Mississippi and across the Northern Plains. Record warmth was expected on Christmas Eve along the East Coast, Oravec said.
He laid the credit — or blame — with a strong El Nino pattern, the warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. That’s helped drive warm air west to east across the Lower 48 and kept colder air from the Arctic at bay, he said.
In the Pacific Northwest and California, the effects of El Nino haven’t really hit yet. They’re typically seen in January through March, and the heavy rains and snows in the region are probably not linked to the phenomenon, said Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond.
The winter in the Pacific Northwest is still predicted to be drier than normal, so the series of storms that dumped feet of snow in the Cascades this month and piled the snowpack back above normal, were helpful, he said.
California is in its driest four-year span on record, and experts anticipate a possible fifth year of drought. Weather forecasters say a strong El Nino weather system could drench the state, but one good, wet winter won’t be enough to rehydrate the parched land.
Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were forecast for Wednesday in Arkansas, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.
With such balmy temperatures in the Northeast, Pine Oaks Golf Club in Easton, Massachusetts, is probably having its busiest December since it was built more than 50 years ago.
“We’ve got 65 degrees coming up on Christmas Eve,” said Scott Ibbitson, a golf specialist at the course. “It’ll be our busiest December day ever.”
Not everyone welcomed the warmth.
Astrid Rau, 55, of Perkasie, Penn., baked 16 kinds of Christmas cookies, but with the temperature expected to reach 72 on Thursday, she had trouble getting in the holiday spirit.
“I associate cold with Christmas,” she said. “And if it’s warm it just doesn’t feel quite right to me.”