It’s been a gray, dreary winter in Baltimore this season. There’s been more than 7 inches of rain since November, but no measurable snowfall, according to data from the National Weather Service.
What gives? It’s all in the temperature.
The average temperature in November was 50.2 degrees, and 37.5 degrees in December, both well above freezing. The United States is experiencing a La Niña this year, which is a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather all over the globe.
In this part of the country, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted this winter had a 33%-40% chance of being warmer than average.
The amount of precipitation, though, has not been affected by La Niña.
Andrew Snyder, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Baltimore/Washington Forecast Office, said the amount of precipitation since Dec. 1 has been “almost exactly normal” compared to the average in Baltimore.
“We are running a little bit below normal for the month of January,” he said. “But the precipitation isn’t too far from normal. It’s just been all rain instead of any snow.”
The lack of powder isn’t just in your head — we usually see snow by this time of the season. Baltimore has historically seen its first snow of the season by mid-December. In fact, it’s been more than a year since Baltimore has recorded more than one inch of snowfall.
Even if it snows Monday, or any time this week, the Baltimore region would have already hit a milestone: It would be the third-latest first measurable snowfall of the season, as first reported by The Baltimore Sun. The region’s latest snowfall, at least since records have been kept, was Feb. 21 in 1973 and the second-latest was Feb. 6 in 1914.
Not that we’re likely to see much snow accumulation this week. As of 5 p.m. Sunday, the forecast for the coming week looks like:
No precipitation Monday, with a high of 55 degrees.
A chance of snow Tuesday during the day and Tuesday night, but with temperature high around 40 degrees Tuesday and a high of 37 degrees on Wednesday.
No precipitation Wednesday or Thursday, with a high of 37 and 42 degrees, respectively.
Is it a sign of things to come? Probably.
“The analogy that I’ve heard, that I like best, is that we’re loading the dice. Climate change is loading the dice,” said Joel Moore, a professor of geosciences at Towson University.
That means climate change doesn’t guarantee that every single day ten years from now will be warmer than it is this year. But it does increase the odds that temperatures will be warmer overall.
As human activity continues to release carbon dioxide into the air, the atmosphere will continue to hold more heat, and global temperatures will continue to rise. It’s a track that the globe is already on.
The last eight years have been the hottest on record, according to European researchers. The hottest year on record was 2016.
Warming average temperatures does not mean that snow is impossible, Moore said. In fact, the changing climate is projected to mean more moisture in the atmosphere, which would lead to more precipitation.
And the polar jet stream, which sometimes carries frigid air over the United States and creates freezing conditions, is possibly becoming more variable, Moore said. The combination of added moisture in the air and the variability of the jet stream means large snow events are possible, even as the overall average temperature increases, Moore said.
“We’ll probably have snow off and on for most of the century, and even big snow events. But overall, it will get warmer,” Moore said.
”This is a window into the future.”