Phil Who? Fairfield County Staying Spring-like

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The jet stream and something called the North Atlantic Oscillation are better ways to predict the weather than a groundhog's shadow, forecasters say. Photo Credit: Flickr user David St. Louis

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. - Punxsutawney Phil might have predicted six more weeks of winter Thursday morning, but National Weather Service forecasters believe one of the warmest winters in recent memory is likley to continue in Fairfield County.

While the temperatures might not be record-breaking on any given day, the sustained warmth since October is unusual, said Tim Morrin, observation program leader for the weather service

“It’s just the fact that we’re so remarkably above normal,” Morrin said, adding readings in Central Park in Manhattan so far this winter point to it being one of the top five warmest winters in history. 

With regard to the famous groundhog predictions, Morrin said it’s just for fun.

“We don’t make any real comments regarding that,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a neat thing but there’s no real science involved there.”

There are scientific measures, however, that the weather service uses that can be very accurate in predicting weather patterns months away, Morrin said. The first is the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, which Morrin explains is a jet stream that separates warm and cold air in the upper-atmosphere across the Pacific Ocean.

“This winter it’s been abnormal. The cold air has been bottled up in the northern areas and it’s not coming down,” he said. “The ENSO is a pattern that can persist for a matter of years. So that’s a marker we can use with confidence that it’s going to be around for a while.”

But the second marker explains why this winter has remained so different than last year, Morrin said. The North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO, is a weather pattern in the North Atlantic “that allows cold air in Northern Canada to drain down” and can change every week, Morrin said.

“Last year, we had way above normal snowfall and that’s why,” he said. “We had a La  Niña just like this year but the difference was the NAO. We’ve been in the same phase of the oscillation and it’s been a warm phase since October. It’s unusual that it’s stayed in that phase. If it flips in February or even March, we could have a late winter switch thrown. We’ll all have to keep an eye out for that.” 

It doesn't appear that "switch" is going to be flipped this weekend. The forecast for Fairfield County for the next few days is sunny to mostly sunny, with day-time highs in the mid- to low-40s. Weather.com's 10-day forecast for Norwalk also is free of snow storms. 

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