News & Politics

What’s Up With the Wacky Weather?

It’s February 1, and it’s above 60 degrees. We talk to an expert over at Capital Weather Gang to find out why.

Jason Samenow. Photograph courtesy of The Washington Post.

Unless you live in a bunker and haven’t come out in weeks and weeks, you’ve noticed something wacky is up with the weather. Washington is experiencing what feels like springtime in winter. It’s been more warm than cold. The only significant snow, oddly, happened back in October. This week, temps have been in the high 50s and even the 60s. The ten-day forecast, including the February 11 anniversary of 2010’s “Snowmageddon,” is also predicted to be relatively mild, though a little cooler than this week.

To document the phenomenon, members of our staff snapped photos showing random signs of warmth around the city. We also checked in with Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. The daily weather blog, which began as an independent site and was absorbed by the Post in 2008, is written by 15 contributors that provides the forecast, insight, and even some humor. Samenow has been interested in the way weather works since he was ten, and now he’s the Post’s first full-time weather editor.

Here’s what Samenow had to say:

What do you make of this wacky weather?

It’s certainly been unusually warm this winter, but January 2012 was the 17th warmest on record, so it wasn’t extraordinarily warm. It was just warm. Overall, we’re definitely seeing the number of warm months increasing in frequency. When you look at what’s happening locally, but also around the globe, you begin to think this is definitely an indication of climate change. Global warming is tilting the odds toward more warmer months, and we’re seeing that here.

Does La Niña have an impact?

We’re in a La Niña pattern, but it’s a moderate La Niña. If you look back at local climate history, when we have a moderate La Niña it’s more likely we’ll have a warm winter than a cold winter. La Niña is one part of the picture. The other reason for the warm pattern is something called the Arctic oscillation. It’s in its positive phase, which means all the cold air has been locked up at the higher latitudes. For example, many parts of Alaska had the coldest January on record.

How do these patterns relate to global warming?

Scientists are still trying to figure out how global warming influences those patterns, but it’s not well understood.

When CWG surveyed readers, the majority said they would prefer another “Snowmageddon,” such as we had two years go. Are they nuts?

The vote was pretty close. It was 53 percent in favor of Snowmageddon versus 47 percent preferring warm weather. A significant contingent of our readers are weather enthusiasts who prefer snow. I prefer snow storms. Many of my weather brethren are in the same boat.

You’re a native Washingtonian. This city seems more weather-obsessed than most. Why is that?

Because I haven’t lived in other weather cities, it’s hard for me to say if that’s true. You have such a geographic mix of people in this region. A lot of people from the South, who aren’t used to the snow. Also, because snow isn’t common here, people tend to panic when we get snowstorms. There’s an especially heightened interest in snow events here.

Do you find Washingtonians tend to prefer cool weather over warm?

Based on our social media responses, when we informally poll people, readers prefer warmth versus cold. People respond favorably to our tweets about warm weather. But they respond negatively to extreme heat. We saw that last summer, coming off the two hottest Julys on record. The combination of heat and humidity in DC is so oppressive and punishing.

Do you forecast another record hot July?

There’s little skill in predicting summer temps in winter. The fact that we’ve had a warm winter so far has no predictive value for summer temps. I won’t make a call at this point, except to say that we’ve been trending warmer in the summer. Statistically, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a record hot summer for the third year in a row, but who knows?

Is there a point in the calendar when the threat of snow is over?

By March, the chances are rapidly declining. Sometimes we’ll see some wet snow in early April, but that’s about as late as it will happen. By mid-April, snow is pretty much unheard of.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. I don’t imagine you buy into that tradition, but what’s your prediction?

I’d go with the groundhog not seeing its shadow, which means spring is around the corner.


Our staff captured some images of the wacky weather in action, check them out below.