Punxsutawney Phil might have predicted six more weeks of winter Thursday morning, but National Weather Service (NWS) officials believe Westchester might continue with one of the warmest winters in recent memory.
Area temperatures hovered around 65 degrees on Tuesday, kicking off one of the warmest February's ever recorded in New York. The weather service said the highest temperature recorded in the New York area was 64 degrees in Newark, N.J. White Plains registered a high of 61 degrees on Tuesday, weather officials said.
“We set a couple of records at JFK and Islip. But we’re way above normal almost everywhere right now,” said Tim Morrin, NWS observation program leader. “The normal high for Westchester this time of year is in the upper-30s.”
Morrin said most of the temperatures might not be record-breaking on any given day, but the sustained warmth since October is unusual.
“It’s just the fact that we’re so remarkably above normal,” Morrin said, adding readings in Central Park in Manhattan so far this winter point to it being one of the top five warmest winters in history. “We don’t have a long-term history in Westchester, but we’ve noticed the temperatures are very similar to Central Park," he said. "So it’s safe to assume the same thing is happening there.”
With regard to the famous groundhog predictions, Morrin said it’s just for fun.
“We don’t make any real comments regarding that,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a neat thing but there’s no real science involved there.”
There are scientific measures, however, that the NWS uses that can be very accurate in predicting weather patterns months away, Morrin said. The first is the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which Morrin explains is a jet stream that separates warm and cold air in the upper-atmosphere across the Pacific Ocean.
“This winter it’s been abnormal. The cold air has been bottled up in the northern areas and it’s not coming down,” he said. “The ENSO is a pattern that can persist for a matter of years. So that’s a marker we can use with confidence that it’s going to be around for a while.”
But the second marker explains why this winter has remained so different than last year, Morrin said. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a weather pattern in the North Atlantic“that allows cold air in Northern Canada to drain down” and can change every week, Morrin said.
“Last year, we had way above normal snowfall and that’s why,” he said. “We had a La Niña just like this year but the difference was the NAO. We’ve been in the same phase of the oscillation and it’s been a warm phase since October. It’s unusual that it’s stayed in that phase. If it flips in February or even March, we could have a late winter switch thrown. We’ll all have to keep an eye out for that.”