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In recent years, some parts of the United States have experienced the warmest winters on record, including in areas that typically experience heavy snowfall. Climatologists have also predicted a warm winter for 2020. Many people are wondering, will this winter be not just warm, but significantly warmer than usual?
Recent winter temperatures
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and other agencies have said that, based on data from January through October, 2020 is the second-warmest year ever in 141 years of temperature records. The NOAA also predicted a 36 percent chance that, after December’s temperatures are incorporated, 2020 will be ranked the warmest year ever, narrowly beating 2016’s record.
The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently said in its provisional 2020 State of the Global Climate report that 2015 to 2020 have all been the hottest years on record since this data began being tracked. December 2015 through February 2016 was the warmest winter on record.
Possible reasons for winter temperature changes
On September 10, NOAA said that La Niña is one of the main factors affecting the upcoming winter forecast in the Northern Hemisphere. La Niña is a name for the below-normal sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and it affects weather patterns in the United States and beyond.
La Niña, the counterpart of the better-known El Niño, results from the interaction between the surface of the ocean and the atmosphere in the tropical Pacific. This interaction affects wind patterns in the atmosphere. La Niña and El Niño occur every three to four years and have long been regular global weather patterns, but increased global temperatures can amplify their effects.
Additionally, according to the UN, 80 percent of the world’s oceans had heat waves in 2020, and approximately 50 percent of these heat waves were considered to be strong. The heat waves in the western Caribbean helped to power the strongest hurricanes of the 2020 season. To mitigate effects like this, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has recommended preventative international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six percent per year through 2030.
Predicted 2020-2021 winter temperatures
For December, climatologists predict colder-than-average temperatures in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic states, southeastern states, and in some areas of the Northern Plains. On the other hand, climate experts also expect warmer-than-average temperatures in southwestern states, northwestern states, and in the Southern Plains region.
For January, scientists expect above-average temperatures in most parts of the eastern states, southern states, and western states. North Dakota and some parts of Montana are the only areas predicted to be slightly colder than their usual average temperatures.
Climate experts have forecasted that February will have milder conditions ranging from above to well-above-average temperatures in the majority of the eastern and southern states. Additionally, the Pacific Northwest regions and Montana have the highest chance of experiencing colder-than-average temperatures.