Winter crosses its meteorological finish line Wednesday, a date dictated by man’s timetable, marking a tidy end to what are supposed to be the coldest three months of the year.
South Florida’s wintertime temperatures have so far run about 4 degrees above the normal mean, with West Palm Beach simmering through its fourth warmest winter on record. Wednesday is expected to reach 85 degrees – a high temperature more typical of mid-May than March 1.
But forecasters say winter hasn’t called it quits just yet, and may muster a hardy front for Florida next week.
“When you look back at the season, we really didn’t have much of a winter whatsoever,” said Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather. “But winter, by all means, is not over. There are still opportunities for cold weather to move into the Deep South.”
For meteorologists, winter is defined as December through February. But the universe runs on a different calendar.
Astronomically, winter begins on the solstice, around Dec. 21, and ends on the spring equinox – when the midday rays of the sun shine directly on the equator. This year, that day is March 20, with daylight savings time beginning March 12.
“We’ve been known to see a system or two in March that will be very strong and bring a return of winter-like temperatures,” said James Thomas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami. “We’re not out of the woods as far as what March holds for winter systems, but we don’t see anything in the near future.”
A feeble cold front is expected to reach South Florida late this week, with Miami meteorologists saying it will “limp” through the state dropping high temperatures closer to normal readings of 81 on Friday and 78 on Saturday.
But Kottlowski said forecast models show a more robust front pushing through near the middle of next week, dropping the high temperature March 9 to 74 degrees with an overnight low of 56. Accuweather has the cooler temperatures sticking around to March 12.
“Just getting a normal cold front that drops temperatures a few degrees below normal may make March feel chillier than what we’ve experienced so far this winter because it’s been so warm,” Kottlowski said.
Throughout Florida, 25 weather stations monitored by the Southeast Regional Climate Center are experiencing winter weather that ranks in their top-five warmest on record based on average mean temperatures.
Seven stations are feeling their warmest winter on record, including Miami which has measured an average mean temperature of 74.2 from Nov. 27 to Monday.
West Palm Beach is having its fourth warmest winter based on average mean temperature. But based on average high temperature — 79.4 degrees — it’s the third warmest on record.
Florida is not alone in feeling the heat. Much of the country has seen an abnormally warm February. Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters and meteorologist Bob Henson point out in their blog that Burlington, Vt., reached an “astounding” 72 degrees Saturday, breaking the previous record high for that day by 17 degrees.
“Record warmth slathered the Northeast on Friday and Saturday, the latest chapter in a phenomenal sequence of unseasonal mildness during the last half of February,” the duo wrote Monday. “As of Monday morning, NOAA’s U.S. Records site had catalogued 5,857 daily record highs for the month.”
In a Feb. 23 report on temperature and climate, the National Phenology Network declared that spring had arrived two to three weeks early across nearly the entire Southeast. The network used National Weather Service information and models on when plants begin their spring growth in their report.
Florida was the lone state that spring didn’t come early, possibly because temperature fluctuations are so small in South Florida that even a record-warm winter wouldn’t trigger an early spring, Henson said.
Kottlowski attributes the warm winter across the U.S. to a more west-to-east flow in the jet stream that often blocked arctic air from seeping south.
And while winter might still have some life left, don’t expect anything too dramatic, he said.
“The odds of seeing a late season arctic blast are highly unlikely,” Kottlowski said. “It’s not impossible, but the chances are very, very slim.”
On April 6, 1920, the overnight low in West Palm Beach reached 38 degrees — a whopping 27 degrees below normal.