Dreaming of a brown Christmas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:04 AM GMT on December 28, 2006

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It's the year of the brown Christmas. The lack of snow across the entire Northern Hemisphere has been remarkable both in its areal coverage and depth, thanks to December temperatures 5-20 degrees F above normal. In the U.S., most of the eastern 2/3 of the country was snow free on Christmas (Figure 1). Granted, Colorado had a white Christmas and the mountains of Washington got slammed with snow this year, but places like northern Maine and Michigan's Upper Peninsula--which normally (Figure 2) have over two feet of snow on the ground this time of year--were snow-free. Munising, Michigan had it's first brown Christmas since 1911, and Minneapolis, Minnesota--which normally receives over 18 inches of snow by this time of year--has had a paltry one inch of snow so far this winter.


Figure 1. The U.S. white Christmas map. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 2. The departure from normal of snow depth on Christmas day 2006. Note the large areas of orange across northern New England and northern Michigan where snow depths are over 2 feet below normal.

Hitler and Napoleon missed their chance
The warmth and lack of snow are also affecting all of Europe. The famed Russian winter that stopped the armies of Hitler and Napoleon has failed to show up this year. Virtually all of Europe has seen the warmest and least snowy December on record, to go with their warmest fall on record. Temperatures in Moscow this December have hit 47 F, a full 87 degrees above the lowest readings recorded last winter. The brown bears at the Moscow zoo have refused to hibernate for the first time ever, thanks to the record warmth.

Normally, an unusually warm winter in one part of the Northern Hemisphere means that another region is receiving an unusually cold winter. A persistent kink in the jet stream pattern typically sets up in these cases, pumping cold air from the pole down to one region, and warm subtropical air northwards into an adjacent region. However, that is not the case this year. Land areas in huge areas of the Northern Hemisphere, including most of Asia (Figure 4), have temperatures well above normal. This is something I've never seen before--there's almost no cold Arctic air to be found. Note, however, that the unusual warmth does not extend to the Southern Hemisphere; December has been colder than normal across much of Africa, South America, and Australia. Melbourne, Australia had its coldest Christmas Day on record with the temperature peaking at 14.5C. The previous lowest recorded temperature was 15.9C, in 1935.


Figure 3. Northern Hemisphere snow cover on Christmas Day 2006. Note the complete lack of snow over Europe, except in northern Scandinavia. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 4. Northern Hemisphere departure of temperature from normal (in Centigrade) for Dec 1 - Dec 25 2006. Note that almost all the land areas of North America, Europe, and Asia were well above normal.

Will it stay warm?
When my nephew Cody eagerly unwrapped his new snow board this Christmas and asked me when he might get a chance to use it, I told him, "What are you thinking? This is Michigan in the 21st century! There's not going to be any more snow." I exaggerate slightly, but I don't recommend that anyone invest in the winter sports equipment industry this year. The latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model shows no end in sight for the warm conditions in North America. I'm guessing that our next outbreak of cold Arctic air in the U.S. won't come until mid-January. According to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University (IRI), January through March should be warmer than average across virtually the entire globe.

The unusual warmth this winter probably has four main causes. Firstly, this is an El Nino year, and it is common for portions of the Northern Hemisphere to experience warmer than average conditions during these events. Add to this the warming due to the observed global warming trend of 1 degree F over the past century, and the usual natural variability due to such phenomena as the North Atlantic Oscillation. Now, let's talk about sea ice in the Arctic. The Arctic Ice Cap has shrunk by about 20% since 1979, and at the end of November this year, the amount of sea ice in the Arctic was about 2 million square kilometers less than had even been seen in any previous November. December has also seen the lowest sea ice coverage for any December on record. All this exposed water provides a huge source of heat and moisture in the Arctic that retards the formation of the usual cold air masses over the adjacent regions of Canada and Siberia. It's impossible to know how much of an effect this has without doing some detailed model studies, but I think the record low sea ice in the Arctic is probably a significant contributor to this winter's record warmth. The Arctic Ice Cap is expected to continue to decline, due to human-caused global warming, according to the 2004 study by 300 scientists, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Many of us who are used to the reality of a white Christmas will find it only a dream in the coming years. I expect that the unnaturally warm winters we've experienced the past two years in the U.S. will become the norm ten years from now--and may already be the new norm.


Figure 5. Northern Hemisphere sea ice area departure from normal for Novembers from 1979 to 2006. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Jeff Masters

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328. hurricane23
10:30 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Long range GFS brings rain back into the forcast for florida.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
327. hurricane23
9:51 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
NWS out of Miami...

LOW-LEVEL MOISTURE CONTINUES TO RAPIDLY RETURN ACROSS SOUTH
FLORIDA THIS AFTERNOON...WITH DEWPOINT VALUES CLIMBING INTO THE
UPPER 60S AND LOWER 70S. THIS TREND IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE
THROUGH AT LEAST THE NEXT 48 HOURS...AS BOUNDARY LAYER FLOW VEERS
TO THE SOUTHEAST AND INCREASES AHEAD OF A POWERFUL UPPER LOW WHICH
WILL LIFT NORTHEASTWARD TOWARD THE GREAT LAKES THROUGH THIS
PERIOD. EASTERLY FLOW REGIME WILL RESULT IN ISOLATED LIGHT SHOWERS
AFFECTING THE ATLANTIC MARINE ZONES AND EASTERN HALF OF THE
PENINSULA THROUGH MONDAY...AND WILL KEEP VERY LOW POPS BUT MENTION
IN THE ZONE FORECAST. DESPITE SOME MINOR DIFFERENCES IN TIMING...
THE VARIOUS MODELS ARE IN GOOD AGREEMENT ON PRECIPITATION CHANCES
INCREASING FROM THE NORTH BY MONDAY AFTERNOON...AS COLD FRONT
ASSOCIATED WITH THE PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED UPPER LOW DRIFTS
SOUTHEASTWARD ACROSS FLORIDA. THE LATEST GFS SOLUTION IS IN BEST
AGREEMENT WITH THE UKMET/CMC GUIDANCE IN BRINGING THE COLD FRONT
TO THE CENTRAL PENINSULA BY LATE MONDAY AFTERNOON...WITH THE NAM
GUIDANCE JUST A FEW HOURS SLOWER. NONETHELESS...IT APPEARS THAT
THE COMBINATION OF MOISTURE AND SYNOPTIC SCALE LIFT WILL BE
SUFFICIENT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AT LEAST SCATTERED SHOWERS AND
THUNDERSTORMS ON MONDAY AFTERNOON...
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
326. wfreeck
9:44 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Well, NWS has included the slight chance of Widespread thunderstorms, and even record setting moisture amounts for the monthh of December in the forecast for Sunday Afternoon. Very odd weather to say the least.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
325. wfreeck
7:06 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Yes, The line may wane a tad though as its moving away from it's MAIN energy source. Noine the less, locally gusty winds and Torrential rainks are likely in New Orleans for the early evening hours.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
324. Frozencanuck
6:35 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Patrap I sure hope you and your loved ones are in a safe area. Looks like the storm front has now moved to include New Orleans. Take call all of you good folks down there. My prayers go out for all of you
Member Since: December 8, 2006 Posts: 42 Comments: 4738
323. hurricane23
6:33 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Indeed....NRL has winds currently at 15kts.


Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
322. Thunderstorm2
6:24 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
There is a INVEST in the western Pacific.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
320. Thunderstorm2
6:19 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hope it doesn't intensify rapidly like Bondo did.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
318. Thunderstorm2
6:02 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
As of early Saturday, an area of low pressure remains to the northeast of Madagascar, centered near 12.3 degrees south and 57.1 degrees east. Maximum winds are averaging around 23 mph, tracking slowly to the west-southwest. This tropical low pressure system has the potential to develop into a tropical cyclone over the next 24-48 hours, and if it does, the storm will be known as Clovis. The projected path of this tropical system will be towards the southwest and may affect eastern Madagascar during next week.

Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
317. Patrap
5:54 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hey Reeldrlaura..Go Saints!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
315. Thunderstorm2
5:46 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Its one hell of a big storm
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
313. Thunderstorm2
5:41 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
90S near Madagascar Link
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
312. weatherboykris
5:31 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Only 152 days.I'll be posting a report on Annular hurricanes in my blog later.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
311. hurricane23
5:21 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
A Strong line of thunderstroms is definately makeing its way towards the New Orleans area...Take cover.


Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
310. hurricane23
5:02 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
One year today!!

ZCZC MIATCPAT5 ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
BULLETIN
TROPICAL STORM ZETA SPECIAL ADVISORY NUMBER 1
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1 PM AST FRI DEC 30 2005

...LATE SEASON TROPICAL STORM...THE 27TH OF THE YEAR...FORMS IN THE
EASTERN ATLANTIC...



what a season....
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
309. reeldrlaura
4:50 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
I'm signing off 'till next year, all......have a happy new year, be safe....make GOOD CHOICES! HA!
Member Since: July 31, 2005 Posts: 93 Comments: 6007
308. reeldrlaura
4:39 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
been there many times, Taz.....specially during the "season". I lived in both no and so cal while going to school (Berkeley, stanford, UC riverside too.) You're site is on my "list"! Ha!
Member Since: July 31, 2005 Posts: 93 Comments: 6007
307. Tazmanian2007
4:37 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
reeldrlaura thanks you sould stop by my blog some times
306. reeldrlaura
4:36 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hey Taz...nice snow pics on your blog. Makes me glad to be sitting here.....sleeveless, bare feet......good beer!
Member Since: July 31, 2005 Posts: 93 Comments: 6007
305. Tazmanian2007
4:33 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
happy new year oh wants to party oh as the beer i am going to have 100 beers on new years LOL
304. reeldrlaura
4:30 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hey Pat, Sandcrab......happy new year and all that. Got your helmets on???
Member Since: July 31, 2005 Posts: 93 Comments: 6007
303. Patrap
3:12 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
New Orleans(Kenner)..west of airport this morning
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
302. Thunderstorm2
2:42 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
They should make a movie of this bad weather
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
301. sandcrab39565
2:29 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
Keep your head down Pat
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
300. Patrap
2:23 PM GMT on December 30, 2006
OKAY!..WU radars back up ..The fray begins here...Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
299. LowerCal
4:08 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Skye no matter how that pie ends up being sliced Big Oil benefits by the disappearance of ice from the Arctic. It's another incentive for Big Oil to oppose any action to limit CO2.
Member Since: July 26, 2006 Posts: 58 Comments: 9188
298. catastropheadjuster
3:56 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Wfreeck: Thank You
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3678
297. Frozencanuck
3:55 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Thanks LowerCal and Skyepony. Appreciate your information. I sure hope this system soon passes and that the good folks down there have a safe night of it.
Member Since: December 8, 2006 Posts: 42 Comments: 4738
296. wfreeck
3:49 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
.
Well your borderline in the slight risk area. The SPC however say instability will be weaker tomorrow as a Squall line with extensive cloud cover comes across LA. Capes are expected toreac to 1000 J/KG. Today, Capes reahed as high as 3500 J/KG in spots. However, with the strongest storms, large hail, damaging winds, and a isoated tornado is possible. The same general ingredients except the instabilty apepars to have remained in place though
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
295. catastropheadjuster
3:41 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hi everyone, I live in Mobile,Alabama and I was wondering if anyone thinks this bad weather Texas is having, do we have a chance at it being as severe as Texas is getting know when it makes it here. On Fox 10 they said we where going to get this front that's in Texas and I've been reading how bad it is and I was just wondering.
Member Since: August 24, 2006 Posts: 21 Comments: 3678
294. LowerCal
3:38 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Storms In Central, North Texas Leave 1 Dead, Several Injured
Tornado Touches Down In College Station

POSTED: 12:00 pm CST December 28, 2006
UPDATED: 8:23 pm CST December 29, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Severe storms with strong winds, heavy rain and hail prompted tornado warnings across North and Central Texas Friday, leaving at least one dead and several injured.

Tarrant County is under a flash flood warning until 9:15 p.m. A tornado watch has been issued for the area until 2 a.m. Saturday.


The Associated Press reported one person was killed when a tornado struck a home in Limestone County, and the Waco Tribune-Herald reported at least 12 people suffered injuries in Central Texas.

Flying debris injured people in Groesbeck, Texas, said Sherald Wood, the marketing director of Limestone Medical Center.

A tornado touched down at about 3:15 p.m. at a College Station apartment complex, the Bryan College Station Eagle reported.

The tornado left a five-mile path of destruction in the College Station area, spokeswoman Rhonda Seaton said. Two gas leaks and one fire were also reported in the area, but there was only one minor injury, police said.

from http://kxas.nbcweatherplus.com/weathernews/10622944/detail.html

I talked to some in-laws in Richland Hills (just east of Fort Worth). They had to go out in the downpour to clear the drainage near the house to keep the house from flooding.
Member Since: July 26, 2006 Posts: 58 Comments: 9188
293. Skyepony (Mod)
3:11 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
A predicted thaw in the Arctic ice cover combined with a search for energy supplies is leading to a new "gold rush" in the high north, bringing diplomatic problems in its wake as five countries vie for access to resources.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 174 Comments: 38194
292. Skyepony (Mod)
3:08 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Cedar Hill, TX

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 174 Comments: 38194
291. Frozencanuck
2:46 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Just got an email from my sister in Cedar Hill TX, south Dallas county before her battery power ran out. Seems there is significant rain and T storms causing havoc in the area. Not far from her, earlier a tornado touched down and did lots of damage. Anyone else hear anything from down that way? Would appreciate any news if possible. She said they had a major T storm passing over and that they had already had about 3 inches of rain....

thanks
Member Since: December 8, 2006 Posts: 42 Comments: 4738
290. wfreeck
1:33 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
.

Looks like that "Squall Line" is developing. However, looking at the local radar out of CC, the clouds tops in that lines are below 10,000 ft and there aren't any detectable lightning strikes. Also, should note that it's probably AT THIS TIME, AT THE WORST, producing torrential downpours.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
289. wfreeck
1:26 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
I checked the radar out of Dallas, looks like the tops in a lot of the storms have lowered significantly (some below 10,000). Depedning on how much instability is left in Houston before the overnight, they still could see some ISOLATED stronger storms. There that on cluster over the gulf. Have to see how it develops as it gets closer towards the Metro Houston area.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
288. TheMom
1:21 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
THanks wfreek feeling a little better. Driving home today and looking in literally the apartments was just erie with thier stuff still in there and the walls and roof ripped off just freaky
Member Since: August 3, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 672
287. wfreeck
1:17 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Dallas has only been hit with mostly the torrential rains. However, Houston is VERY lucky there cappe dthis evening. I know there about ready to pass out with mid 70 degree dewpoints donw ther though. The activity should SLOWLY wane during the overnight from north to south.
Member Since: August 8, 2006 Posts: 124 Comments: 3535
286. TheMom
1:14 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
FEMA is a Clusterfu@#...take it from a New Orleanian..do it yourself but save all yer receipts and give to your city mgrs..for reimbursment.I did.

I'll give you an Amen on that both FEMA and my Insurance came after Charlie all We are going to fix the hole in the roof and paint it and blah blah blah you know what I got NOTHING! I paid to repair the ripped off roof vent and put up the sheet rock which is still not painted because out of pocket after paying insurance pisses me off so will just be there till FEMA comes back and paints it them selves since and I quote "WE ARE GOING TO PAINT THIS" so he should be getting back soon with his paint brush Right? LOL But the millionairs in Miami got some new dirt to the tune of several million dollars *Insert eyeroll here*

Soooo off the soap box now any ideas on if we should be expecting the worst again since we only had 7 mins notice on Christmas Day.
Member Since: August 3, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 672
285. Patrap
1:05 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
FEMA is a Clusterfu@#...take it from a New Orleanian..do it yourself but save all yer receipts and give to your city mgrs..for reimbursment.I did.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
284. Patrap
1:03 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
President Bush was briefly put in an Armored car in Crawford Texas during Tornado warning there.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
283. TheMom
1:01 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Hope they don't have a New Years Weekend like we had for Christmas! Still crazy how much the damage is not getting out there seems like FEMA is covering up to keep from having to help there is a 7 house wide 10 mile path from the Daytona Airport to the apartments that are the only ones being talked about. My friend lost both cars and large chunks of roof and all trees in thier yard houses on both sides of them destroyed.

We were told would have same Thing on New Years Day is that the storm over Texas now? What do you guys think about timeing on it in Florida and does it maintain it's twister making dtatus to us?
Member Since: August 3, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 672
282. Patrap
12:34 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Coffe City in HARMS way..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128667
281. hurricane23
12:18 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Radar view....

Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
280. hurricane23
12:08 AM GMT on December 30, 2006
Indeed another huge outbreak taking place around the texas area with many tornadoes being reported....

Infrared view thunderstorm activity over the area.


Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13804
279. sandcrab39565
11:51 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
Pat just talked to lix the next model runs will tell us more.
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
278. sandcrab39565
11:50 PM GMT on December 29, 2006
Pat just talked to LIX the next model runs will be the best that we will have to see how we are affected.
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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