February is coming to a close the same way it started — with unseasonable warmth — and climate experts say there is an increased probability that above-average temperatures will continue into summer.
"It's going to be warm through the rest of the week," said Bryan Jackson, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Sterling, Va. "We have low pressure to our north and to our west, and there's a storm approaching that should bring rain to the area on Friday."
By the month's end, Baltimore will likely have seen more days exceeding 50 degrees than during any other recorded winter season, measured from the first of December through the close of February. This season, there have been 44 days that have been 50 degrees or warmer, and the average temperature from Dec. 1 though Wednesday is just over 40 degrees.
Climate experts measure winter temperatures from December through February so statistics can be compared accurately from year to year, said Kathryn Vreeland, a climatologist with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University.
According to records that go back 73 years, the 2011-2012 winter is in second place for the most 50-plus days, only two days away from taking the top spot from 2001-2002, which saw 45 days where temperatures were 50 or higher. Both today and Friday are forecast to be in the 60s, and the remaining five days of the month are expected to hover between the high-40s and mid-50s.
While the unseasonable weather has been a problem for ski resorts, the warm and reasonably dry days — Baltimore has seen roughly 7.7 inches of precipitation, about 2 inches shy of normal rainfall for the three winter months — have been a boon to local recreation.
"After hearing the ski resorts crying the blues this winter, I'm feeling vindicated," said Jon Ladd, executive director of the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., which operates five courses and a driving range.
For the last two years, he said, snow and freezing temperatures kept golfers off the fairways between Halloween and St. Patrick's Day. In February 2010, for instance, only five rounds — total, across all five courses — of golf were played. This year, the company surpassed its expected revenue for the first two months of the year by the end of January, Ladd said.
In Garrett County, the ski business at Savage River Lodge has been reduced from a normal season of more than 40 skiing days to just four days this season, said owner Mike Driesbach.
Baltimore's warm winter has been "a combination of La Nina and the [positive] North Atlantic Oscillation," said Jackson. La Nina, with colder ocean surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, creates higher-than-normal temperatures in the southeastern U.S. The positive oscillation, characterized by pockets of drastically different atmospheric pressure over the northern Atlantic Ocean, reduces the likelihood of storms in the Mid-Atlantic.
"Last winter we had La Nina but mostly a negative North Atlantic Oscillation," said Jackson.