Warm, wacky winter unusual for Michiganders

Sledding. Snowball fights. Pond hockey. These activities and everything that deals with winter has been in short supply this year. Instead of wearing layers on layers of clothes to prepare for Michigan’s brutal winter months, people are wearing only a sweatshirt at best on some warm days the past few months.

For Howell High School students this year, this has meant no snow days.

The days during the winter that students and even teachers look forward to the most have not come this school year. The thrill of waking up, seeing “Howell Public Schools” under the school closings list on the news, and going back to sleep has been absent.

This last December, Howell, Michigan experienced 21 days over the average high temperature. For the month of January, the average high temperature in Howell is right around the freezing point or 32 degrees. This January however, Howell had 21 days over the average high. Overall, there were 12 days in January where the high was forty degrees or higher. The month of February has been following suit. As of February 15, there have been nine days above the normal temperature and five days over forty degrees.

While the temperature has been warm for the most part, Southeast Detroit has experienced its fair share of snow. According to the National Weather Service in Detroit, the Detroit area received 9.3 inches of snow, which is only 3.2” below the January average. However, because of the warm air, the snow that has fell usually melts within a few days at the longest.

So what has been causing this unusual winter? Arctic oscillation or the atmospheric pressure patterns in the Arctic and northern latitudes is the main culprit. Arctic oscillation has two phases: a positive and negative phase. This winter it has been in a positive phase, which has meant the cold air is bottle up over the pole according to Mike Halpert, who is the deputy director of the government’s Climate Prediction Center.

The previous two winters, however, were the exact opposite. The Arctic oscillation was in a negative phase, which let cold air to drop down to the lower forty-eight states and allowed for heavy snow to impact the region. Arctic oscillation has been kept on record since around 1950, said Halpert. In the 1950s, 1960s, and ‘70s, there was usually a negative phase so the result was colder winters. Since then though, a good portion of winters have had a positive Arctic oscillation and allowed warmer winters for the most part.

For Howell Public Schools, the positive Arctic oscillation has meant no snow days for the whole 2011-2012 school year so far. Last year, the Howell school district had five snow days overall. In the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years, Howell had two snow days. With winter on its final stretch of the year, it is looking more and more likely that this will be a school year will experience no snow days.

While we live in Michigan and know its weirdness, especially when it comes down to weather, this winter has taken people by surprised. When there are days smelling of spring and it’s only January, you know something is not right. And as the days go by and spring begins to lurk, one might ask them self if this year will be the winter that wasn’t really a winter.

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