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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Stalled jet stream holds winter at bay

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
‘It's a wonderful winter for us,' says Janice Bench of Bench's Greenhouse & Nursery near Elmore, with tulips being kept in cold storage. ‘Everything is growing beautifully.' ‘It's a wonderful winter for us,' says Janice Bench of Bench's Greenhouse & Nursery near Elmore, with tulips being kept in cold storage. ‘Everything is growing beautifully.'
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It's February, supposedly one of the snowiest pages on the calendar.

But this year, the jet stream is stalled five miles up in the atmosphere in a west-east pattern. The frosty Yukon air that usually pours over the Midwest is, for the most part, staying up north.

Down on the ground in Ohio and southeast Michigan, tiny crocuses are sprinkling Easter-basket colors across brown back yards. It might as well be spring despite the 0.02 of an inch of precipitation yesterday.

AccuWeather, Inc., a private forecasting service based in State College, Pa., said this February has consisted so far of 21 days of relatively warm weather, with an average daily temperature in Toledo of 35.5 degrees. It's the seventh-warmest February since 1880, when official weather records started being kept.

February is not alone in its balminess. This January averaged 35.2 degrees, which also made it the seventh warmest ever. December, 2001, was the eighth warmest since 1880, with an average of 37 degrees.

“That's 8.7 percent above normal averages,” said Bernie Rayno, AccuWeather senior meteorologist. “That's very, very large, very significant. But we have some more February to get through, and that number will go down next week, as the temperatures drop.”

The weather is closer to normal in southeastern Michigan, said Brian Montgomery, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oakland County.

“Precipitation is a little below normal, but we expect to make up for that next week, with snow showers,” he said “This winter, we've had 22.4 inches of snow, the 13th least amount of snow on record. The most-snowless [winter] in the Detroit area was in 1936-37, when they had only 12.9 inches all winter.”

The anomaly isn't limited to northwest Ohio. The past three months have been the warmest November-through-January period in the continental United States since national record-keeping began in 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

In the Toledo area, precipitation is at 44 percent of the February norm, with 0.83 inches for the month so far. The average, Mr. Rayno said, is 1.88 inches.

Laura Benfield uses a 'winter clearance sale' ad to shield herself from the wind and snow while on her way to work downtown. Laura Benfield uses a 'winter clearance sale' ad to shield herself from the wind and snow while on her way to work downtown.
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That's fine with Janice Bench, who with her husband runs Bench's Greenhouse & Nursery outside Elmore. Warm temperatures and lower gas prices have sent her heat bill plummeting - and with three acres of greenhouses, she has plenty of warming to do. “It's a wonderful winter for us,” she said. “Our greenhouse is costing about half what it was last year. On sunny days, the heat is natural. Everything is growing beautifully.”

It's also good news for people who tend to icy, winter roads because it's a savings in snowplow overtime and road salt, a commodity suppliers said was in short supply back in October.

“We're in good shape,” said Bob Sell, Waterville streets and water foreman. “We've got enough left from last year to probably get us through this year - I've got about 250 tons in the salt building.”

The kindly jet stream is shifting, though, and winter will be back by Monday. Forecasters say the wind will pick up, and the mercury should drop from 36 to 18 degrees. Tuesday's 22-degree high will seem much colder than the temperature should merit, Mr. Rayno said, because “we're so use to feeling warm air when we step outside.”

The natural question is whether the record warmth is related to global warming. Globally, 1998 was the warmest year on record and 2001 the second-warmest. The 1990s were the warmest decade. “There is no question that the Earth's surface has been warming over the last 30 years in particular - the record is very clear on that - and most of the scientific community believes this amount of warming can be attributed to the [man-made] increase in greenhouse gases in atmosphere,” said Syd Levitus, director of NOAA's Climate and Ocean Laboratory.

However, it's difficult to point to any single event like this winter's record warmth and connect it to global warming “given the natural variability in the system,” Mr. Levitus said.

The Blade's wire services contributed to this report.



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