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Maryland weather: This Baltimore winter has been warm — but is it the warmest ever?

Emma Childs, an artist from Federal Hill, takes advantage of unusually warm weather to take her 6-month-old piglet, Plum, to Federal Hill Park to bask in the sunshine. Plum stays indoors on a heating pad at home and can’t go outside unless it is 70 degrees or warmer. Since piglets are at risk of pneumonia, Childs explained, “winter is not her season.”

If Thursday’s high temperature of 79 degrees wasn’t enough of a clue, this winter in Baltimore has been historically warm.

The high temperature recorded at BWI Marshall Airport broke a record dating back to 1874 by 1 degree, according to the National Weather Service.

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Plenty of people across Baltimore were relishing in the February sunshine. Even before the end of the workday, a queue had formed at the BMore Licks ice cream shop beside Patterson Park, where joggers and dog walkers sported short sleeves.

As of Wednesday, the average temperature measured at BWI this winter is the fifth warmest since the National Weather Service started tabulating it in the late 1800s, at 41.7 degrees.

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The average daily high temperature, though, has been the third highest on record, at about 51 degrees, according to the Weather Service.

With just 0.2 inches of snow counted at the airport so far, this winter also features the smallest amount of snow ever recorded during a winter in the Baltimore area. Plus, it took far longer than usual for Baltimore to get its first snow this year. The dusting Feb. 1 was the third-latest first snow event in the metro area’s history.

Technically, meteorological winter ends March 1, and there’s still time for the winter record books to change. There’s a 20% chance of snowfall Saturday, after a cold front moves into the area Thursday night. But the snow could mix with rain, and only a small amount of accumulation is expected, thanks in part to warm ground temperatures.

The warmest Baltimore winter recorded by the National Weather Service was from 1931 into 1932, with an average temperature of 45.3 degrees. But the winters starting in December 2011, 2016 and 2019 cracked the top 10.

Elisabeth Mueller, a student at St. John’s College, catches some rays on the State House lawn in Annapolis on Thursday.

Climate scientists say it’s an indication that climate change could be beginning to influence winters in Baltimore.

“It’s questionable whether we’re going to have four seasons for very long,” said Jen Brady, senior data analyst at Climate Central, a nonprofit climate change research organization. “Winter in particular is just getting eaten.”

For states up and down the East Coast, this winter was warmer than usual, Brady said, and the trend extended into the Midwest, too.

“Despite the crazy storm that went past yesterday, Detroit is still looking at a top five warmest winter,” Brady said.

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This winter did feature some freezing cold stretches in Baltimore, including right around Christmas Eve, when the low temperature was 6 degrees and the high was 20 degrees.

But in January, the lowest temperature recorded at BWI was 25 degrees. And temperatures climbed to 66 degrees Jan. 3.

For those eager to ski or snowboard on nearby mountains, or enjoy a walk in a winter wonderland, this season might have felt like a dud. But the warmer-than-average temperatures have been a boon for other outdoor activities, including hiking and bicycling.

Anecdotally, Patapsco Valley State Park has seemed busier than usual lately, said Dave Ferraro, president of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park. The park’s most dedicated trail users will visit regardless of the weather, he said, but more casual users will come with the sunshine, filling picnic pavilions and walking paths on unexpectedly warm afternoons.

“We’ve seen crowding here in the past couple months in the Avalon area that are more normal for the late spring crowd, particularly on the weekends,” Ferraro said.

The Woodstock area, including close to the Woodstock Inn restaurant, also has been bustling lately, Ferraro said. But there haven’t been any closures of park areas in January and February due to the crowds, as is common during the most popular times of the year, such as in the summer.

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Because temperatures haven’t dropped below freezing as frequently as normal, the trails haven’t struggled with freeze-thaw issues as much, Ferraro added. Wet, thawing trails are among the most vulnerable to damage and erosion, while hard-packed frozen trails are more durable.

Mark Jones, treasurer of the Baltimore Ski Club, said that during his trip to Roundtop this year, he saw the effects of warmer temperatures. It seemed that only about half of the trails on the Pennsylvania mountain were open, and all of them were covered with man-made snow. While conditions started out well in the morning, they’d worsen by the end of the afternoon, he said.

“The top of the mountain, you could see brown coming back through the snow,” Jones said. “So, that just tells you how quickly the conditions degraded.”

Jones, 68, said he feels lucky that he’s retired, so he could select the best time to ski locally. He picked a Tuesday in mid-January. He also was able to go skiing in the western part of the Unites States, where conditions were better.

But for skiers just starting out in the Baltimore area, it’s worrying when they have fewer options to try out the hobby locally, he said.

“It seems like we get maybe two or three — four days max — where the temperatures will be at freezing or somewhere around there, and then the next thing you know it’s a day where it’s gonna hit 68,” Jones said. “I almost feel like I could go from skiing one day to playing golf the next.”

Shae McCoy, a farmer at Strength To Love II Farm (S2L2) in Sandtown-Winchester, lays down mulch to create a path in one of 14 established hoop houses. Celery is planted in the foreground. The 1.5-acre, year-round farm provides organically grown food to the surrounding communities. S2L2 will host a volunteer day March 4 for their fencing project. Those interested can register online.
For the record

This article has been updated to correct that this is the fifth warmest winter on record at an average of 41.7 degrees after the National Weather Service revised data it provided. The Sun regrets the error.


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