FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Fairfield County residents haven’t had to break out the snow shovel or mittens for the first few days of winter.
Temperatures have remained close to 50 degrees in December, even though winter officially started Dec. 22.
“This is the warmest December on record pretty much by far,” Gary Lessor, chief meteorologist at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, told the Daily Voice.
The average temperature along the shoreline this December has been 47.6 degrees, which is 12.2 degrees warmer than the normal average of 35.4 degrees. The old record — set in 2001 — was 41.4 degrees.
The warm temperatures were caused by El Niño, a warming of the waters in the Pacific Ocean off the South American coastline. The system created a more northerly subtropical jet stream, which brought record warmth and above normal precipitation to the Northeast, Lessor said.
While Fairfield County residents may be surprised by the unusual conditions, unseasonably warm temperatures have occurred in past winters. The winter of 1997 into 1998 was mild with snowfall of 20 to 30 inches in the area, for example.
This year, as El Niño begins to wane over the next 30 to 40 days, the region may see colder temperatures.
“We will be seeing colder weather,” Lessor said. But it will continue to probably be “a little above normal at least for the first half, first three weeks of January.”
Then, as El Niño continues to weaken, the region could see colder than normal temperatures at the end of January and February. At that point, the region could see more significant snow accumulations, Lessor said.
Next week, the region may be getting a taste of more winter-like temperatures. Temperatures won’t probably get out of the mid-30s on Monday. The region may see temperatures stay below freezing Tuesday. But temperatures will return to higher than normal on Wednesday, Lessor said.
The county may not be so lucky next year when the reverse of this year’s weather pattern may occur: The region may see colder than normal temperatures and a significant snow event due to La Niña.
For now, people — and plants — have enjoyed the warm temperatures. In fact, the warmer-than-normal temperatures have caused some confused plants to bloom. These budding flowers could be killed off with harsh temperatures, but Lessor said gardeners should not worry.
“These things are hardy,” Lessor said. "They tend to recover.”
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