As the calendar flips away to a new year, Chicagoans are used to finding themselves weary from weeks of burrowing through dreadful winter weather and dour at the thought of several more months to go.
But the outlook for 2012 is markedly brighter. The days are already growing longer, the area has been virtually snow-free, and December, compared to the previous two years, has bordered on balmy. With a high of 45 on Christmas, Chicago was 21 degrees and a cactus shy of being Phoenix.
Forecasters are now saying confidently that while a major snowstorm can't be ruled out, the remaining stretch of winter will likely be wet and mild, which makes this season seem surprisingly survivable. Even if the weather does break bad, the worst of winter can't last more than another few months.
For Dawn Manker, a stay-at-home mom from Elgin who has seasonal affective disorder, the mild temperatures have made it easy to throw a coat on her 5-year-old son, Jacob, and head to a nearby park, breaking the normal monotony of an icy December.
"I haven't felt like I was stuck at home," said Manker, who has experienced no SAD symptoms this winter. "I'm very optimistic that we're going to have a short winter."
The lack of snow also has put smiles on officials in cities and villages across the Chicago area, as each day without nasty weather saves money.
Elgin has been wrestling with budget cuts and falling revenue, so the warmer winter has been a wish come true.
"When we were all planning for the snow season and were realizing the budget deficit was looming, several of us said, 'If you want to save money, then you just make it not snow,'" said public works Superintendent Colby Basham. "Here, one month into the snow season, we have essentially dodged a bullet."
Scott Niehaus, village manager of Tinley Park, said the village has had to salt roads only twice this year, using 164 tons of salt compared to the 1,500 tons it had used at this point last year.
"It's good for the bottom line," he said.
So what is it, atmospherically speaking, that is bringing such joy to those who loathe the slog of snow and ice?
According to a report by the National Weather Service, two naturally occurring weather phenomena — the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation — have created changes in the pressure in the atmosphere that make it harder for cooler air to reach the Midwest. It's a bit like having a big, invisible wall to the north keeping out the wintry blasts.
Indications are that this behavior will continue into January and, the report said, "odds favor this winter to continue to be on the warm and wetter side." Which is not to say that snow won't come.
"In weather, nothing is exact," said Charles Mott, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville. "And especially, nothing is forever. There's a possibility that we could get colder. And there's still a possibility that we could get snow, although the chances now seem to be a little bit less."
So we may well see a January in which people walk the streets without fuzzy warm hats and puffy down coats. And while this is great news for some, not all are delighted.
Ashley Mateja, of Orland Park, an 18-year-old student and a singer in a wedding band, said the weather of late has been "disappointing."
"It doesn't feel like Christmas," she said. "You live in Chicago, you expect (the snow) to come."
Brian Krasowski, 44, of Orland Park, concurred and said the weather lately hasn't really been any better than freezing temperatures with snow: "42 (degrees) and rainy is not conducive to any outdoor activity."
John Matijevich, store manager of Rich's Yamaha in Lockport, which sells snowmobiles and accessories, said business is down about 40 percent.
"It's just killing us," he said. "There's no snow up north. There's no snow around here. There's no snow anywhere."
Matijevich said he wakes up every day "hoping for 2 feet of snow."
Donald Ami, of Palatine, co-president of the Northwest Nordic Ski Club, just wants a chance to dust off his skis.
In a typical winter, his cross-country skiing club will take three or four local trips in December, but this year all those outings were canceled. He said one member is considering traveling to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to try to find snow.
"That's pretty extreme," he said.
Some ski sites say they're getting by with artificial snow on days that are cold enough for it to stick. But those have been few and far between.
"I really can't remember anything like this," said Stephanie Fitzsimons, marketing manager of the Bartlett Park District, which operates a ski area that has been open only a handful of days this year. "The weather hasn't been cooperating."
Or, if you're like John Mazzulla, 58, of Burr Ridge, the weather has been cooperating just fine. He found himself stranded on Illinois Highway 83 during the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, so he has no problem with little snow now.
"When I was younger, I would have been devastated," he said Wednesday afternoon at a bookstore in Oak Brook.
Then, with a strong dose of sarcasm, Mazzulla saluted the current stretch of mild temperatures: "Thank God for global warming."
Tribune reporters Amy Alderman and Rex W. Huppke contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun