Warm season lovers are rejoicing with an outlook for a much warmer than average rest of February. "Historically warm" may end up being the case for much of the country's mid-section. A weak La Nina influenced weather pattern has left us with near normal precipitation but the much warmer than average temperatures have been somewhat of a surprise. (Weak La Nina typically brings slightly cooler than average temperatures to the Paducah area for the winter months of Dec-Feb.)
There is one big exception to this and it was the Winter of 2011-2012. The 2012 calendar year started off very warm leading it to be the warmest year on record and second driest. Highs reached into the 80's during the month of March and drought settled in during the early summer months. Similar to the Winter of 2011-2012, this winter has been under the influence of a weakening La Nina episode. The current outlook is for La Nina to continue to weaken and go Neutral. Another global steering pattern is known as the Arctic Oscillation (AO). It determines if cold air is able to drain south into the north central United States. When the AO is in a negative phase, cold air is funneled southward. Alternatively a positive phase keeps an active jet stream further to our north. This was a large contributor to the record warmth of 2012. We are seeing similar signs of positive signal setting up at least into the beginning of March and the start of Spring.
Land Between the Lakes, KY & TN
Why compare the two? It may give us a hint to what is expected for the Spring and Summer months here in the Mid-South. Our region is already prone to extreme periods of heat and drought and when they occur it leads to devastating results. Brush fires, water loss, insects/pests worsen are just a couple. We should always be ready for heat and drought but expect a higher risk of the occurrence this warm season. As a normal part of combating fire risk, Land Between the Lakes has already planned several prescribed burns to eliminate dry brush fuel.
It won't take much for us to achieve record status wrapping up this Winter (Dec-Feb). December ran just above average at 0.6, January soared above average at 7.8 and so far February is sitting at 5.9 above average. If Winter were to end today, we would finish in 5th for warmest, still shy of the all-time record warm Winter of 1949-1950. The outlook for the rest of February remains well above average. The graphic to the right shows an "average" winter season compared to the noted of the past along with where we are today.
Paducah Area - Courtesy Climate Central
In the short term a much warmer start to Spring will be great for getting outdoors and for the local recreational economy. On the down side an erratic weather pattern could bring a late frost or freeze after many of our area crops emerge if they are planted too early during the enticing warmth. Mosquitoes, ticks and fleas will emerge much sooner and will reproduce more in a longer warm season. Long term impacts are more focused on extreme heat and drought. If warm, dry conditions persist long enough it contributes to a positive feedback mechanism, where dry conditions propagate even drier conditions. This usually is a result of a dominant area of high pressure blocking rain-producing weather systems. This is when crop loss, water shortages and wildfire risks increase rapidly.
The moisture train is full steam ahead into the Local 6 area setting us up for several more rounds of rain and the potential for lowland flooding. Showers and a few thunderstorms will overspread the region starting tonight and becoming more numerous by sunrise. The greatest concern with rain moving in is the already-saturated ground that is in place. Water will collect quickly in low lying areas and may also cover roads exposed in those same areas. The highest rainfall totals from Wednesday night through Friday morning are centered over Western Kentucky and NW Tennessee where 1-2" is possible. Flood prone areas should be alert to rising water Thursday. The graphic above is a look at rainfall projections through Friday morning. Additional rain is expected in smaller amounts on Friday and Saturday as a warm front lifts north of the Local 6 area. A cold front will slowly push our way this weekend bringing another round of heavy rain and thunderstorms Saturday night into Monday morning. The most important thing you can do to prepare is talk to your children about staying away from flooded areas. When the weather turns slightly warmer (like this weekend) kids can be enticed to play in water collection areas. If you experience any flooding issues or encounter roads covered in water, turn around, then send a report to the National Weather Service in Paducah and us here at Local 6 so we can alert others. Paducah NWS on Twitter: @NWSPaducah or #pahspotter WPSD Local 6 on Twitter: @WPSDWeather or #WPSDWx