Most years, January sucks. It’s just so cold. This year’s been different: January was host to a heat wave that broke over 1,500 daily high temperatures, according to the website Climate Central. In the UK, 2012 is on track to have one of the warmest Januarys on record. While some around the office may love snow, I say all in all this winter has been sort of nice.
Unfortunately, I've internalized enough global warming information to feel guilty for enjoying a reprieve from a month I normally would hate anyway—a real lose-lose situation. Luckily, just like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, NASA is here to tell you that the January heat wave is not your fault.
Climatologists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a report Tuesday attributing winter's rather paltry amount of snowfall to old standby La Niña and the Artic Oscillation.
Not to be confused with El Niño, La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures on the Pacific, which pushes the jet stream and cold air further north. The report stated that this means warmer temperatures across America's Sun Belt, and colder temperatures for the Pacific Northwest and Minnesota. La Niña normally doesn't make such a large impact, but this year it's working in tandem with the Artic Oscillation to deny us the pleasure of skiing, snow angels, and writing our own names in urine cursive.
The shadowy Artic Oscillation is more obscure (probably due to its much duller name), but factors into both Alaska's brutal winter and the contiguous United State's lack of one. The AO is the whirlpool action of the air around the North Pole. When this motion is weak, cool air currents escape and head southward to the United States. When the motion is strong, however, the cold air stays together in mass, with only one state in its path to brutalize.
“The strong positive AO has kept the Jet Stream north,” Bill Patzert, a NASA climatologist, said. “Snow-delivering storm tracks are pounding Alaska.”
And pound it has. The small city of Cordova, Alaska has had an absurd 16 feet of snow fall already this winter, almost double what it normally receives in an entire season. The situation has gotten so crazy that the town issued a disaster declaration and called in the Alaska National Guard to help remove the snow.
For snow-jealous residents of the lower 48, Patzert advises you to "Be patient. We haven't gotten to the heart of winter."
True enough. Keep in mind: "Snowpacalypse" didn't strike the East Coast until February 2011.
Even if it seems unnatural, a weak winter has an upside for the natural world. A North Dakota newspaper article noted that the summertime-like winter made living easy for deer and pheasant, a welcome reprieve after two hard winters. The same article also notes that, "there are a lot of insects and diseases that really get the brakes put on them by some good, cold weather," but since there's nothing you can do either way, you may as well enjoy the upside.