Springfield, MA Jan. 11 (AP by Jeff Donn)--Why is the Northeast having such a wimpy, hatless, snowless winter?
Meteorologists say it is due to La Nina, the notorious Pacific Ocean cool-off, combined with a complex weather pattern over the North Atlantic, and perhaps even global warming, too.
But they advise against putting your skis in hock just yet, because conditions may be about to change.
It's been a tepid winter so far in the Northeast. No measurable snow has fallen yet on Boston, breaking the previous record for the latest date for the season's first snow, Dec. 22, set in 1998. Portland, Maine, had a record high temperature of 50 degrees Monday, and readings hit 60 in much of the Northeast last week.
Eastern Lake Ontario _ usually the snowiest area east of the Rockies, with an average of 220 inches a year _ is virtually snowless so far this year.
With a paltry 1.6 inches of snow, Albany, N.Y., is experiencing its least snowy winter in 50 years. Buffalo, famous for its towering drifts, has gotten just under 14 inches, about 28 inches less than usual for this point in the season.
``Heck, there's even a threesome out there today playing in the rain,'' Rich Ajemian said Tuesday at the Liverpool Golf and Public Country Club outside Syracuse, N.Y.
Meteorologists say the La Nina phenomenon, in which cool water sloshes across the Pacific to replace the warm water that produced El Nino, has straightened the kinks out of the high-altitude highway of rushing wind known as the jet stream.
That straight flow makes fewer of the low-pressure troughs that promote storms. It also blocks frigid arctic air that otherwise would spill southward.
On the east side of North America, a complex weather system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation has produced relatively high atmospheric pressure off Greenland, which also forces the jet stream into a straighter course and has effects that extend back into the Northeast.
Global warming could also be contributing to the springlike weather, said Neal Strauss, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton.
The 1990s set records for warm winters in some places, possibly with help from the warming that has been linked to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, he noted.
For most of the country, in fact, this winter has brought ``weird, wacky weather,'' said Mark Tobin, meteorologist at AccuWeather, based in State College, Pa.
He said the weather had been warmer and drier than usual in the Southeast The Plains have also been unseasonably warm, with little or no snow. Not even Colorado has seen a big winter storm.
Winter typically brings rainy weather to California, but only northern and central parts of the state have seen any precipitation.
Strauss isn't all that fond of the mild weather.
``I do miss having us get pummeled by some heavy snow and gusty winds,'' he said. ``It makes it interesting around here.''
It may get interesting again fairly soon.
Snow could fall in the Northeast as soon as Thursday, when a couple inches is likely even in southeastern New England.
That would be a boon for suffering businesses that sell snow-removal equipment, winter clothing and other seasonal products.
``Any time you get natural snow, people are wanting to get out and enjoy winter sports,'' said Chris Field, assistant director of the Wisp ski school in McHenry, Md.
On Friday and Saturday, temperatures are expected finally to dip down to zero or below in some inland areas.
And forecasters say the weeks ahead could bring lots of the kind of snowfall New England is famous for. The North Atlantic Oscillation is expected to shift back to a storm phase around mid-January, and February is normally the snowiest month.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press