By Meteorologist Garrett Marino
December was the warmest on record for New York’s North Country, nearly a fifteen-degree Fahrenheit departure from normal, and milder than an average November.
Much of the globe also experienced record warmth.
The mild weather continued into January when the North Country still averaged five degrees warmer than normal.
What kept the polar air at bay?
The precursors to weather patterns that develop over the United States can generally be found in one of three locations: (1) the tropics, (2) from the layer of atmosphere above us called the troposphere, and (3) the upper latitudes of the polar regions. We have all heard the news from the tropics this year — the El Niño is the strongest on record. El Niño is a warming of the tropical oceans, which in turn strengthens the jet stream and helps to undercut any cold air that attempts to dive south.
Further out, the El Niño has already peaked and will gradually decay through the year.
The record warmth was not entirely El Niño’s fault.
In addition to the record El Niño, we have also had a very strong stratospheric polar vortex. The stratospheric polar vortex is related to the polar vortex we heard so much about during the past two winters. When it is strong, it helps keep the cold air locked over the pole, but occasionally it splits and contributes to arctic outbreaks in the North Country.
Looking forward to the balance of winter, some ephemeral cold is likely at times, namely mid-month February and perhaps again late month into early March.
Further out, the El Niño has already peaked and will gradually decay through the year. Its rate of decline will influence weather patterns for the remainder of the year. A faster decline which ends during summer increases the odds of a hot second half of summer.
Garrett Marino is an MIT-trained meteorologist who recently relocated to live full-time in the Adirondack Mountains. Garrett provides statistics and observations from his lakeside meteorological observatory at Camp Thundersnow on Upper Saranac Lake, where he maintains a weather station.