Warm 1990 headed for the record books

December 19, 1990|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin contributed to this story.

Weather forecasters say 1990 is headed for the record books as the warmest year in 120 years of record-keeping in downtown Baltimore.

Barring a sudden skid into the deep-freeze, 1990 will exit with an average temperature of 60.8 degrees at the Custom House in downtown Baltimore. That's 3.1 degrees above normal, and 1.6 degrees higher than the previous record established in 1931, said Fred Davis, chief meteorologist at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

At BWI, the average temperature so far for 1990 is 57.5 degrees, said forecaster Ken Shaver. The highest annual average previously recorded at BWI is 57 degrees, set in 1953. Records have been kept at BWI since 1950.

"Most of the warmth has occurred during the normally cold months, when we usually get cold outbreaks that stay around for a while," said Dave Miskus, meteorologist and editor of the weekly climate bulletin at the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs.

And, "the summer temperatures were pretty much close to normal," he said. Taken together, it's been enough to put the whole year over the top as the warmest ever.

For some, the mild weather has had a delightful bonus: So far, 1990 has brought only a half-inch of snow to Baltimore. That fell last Jan. 8.

The waning year also is expected to set all-time records for warmth at Dulles International Airport and for Washington and the whole state of Virginia.

In fact, 1990 is bucking to become the third-warmest year on record all across the lower 48 states, said Miskus.

"If it's real warm in December, it might get to be second-warmest," Miskus said. For now, 1934 remains the warmest on record in the lower 48, and 1921 the second-warmest.

Can we blame it on all the carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases we've pumped into the air? Is the planet really heating up?

"People are thinking about issues that have to do with the environment, and that's good," said Maryland's acting state climatologist, George J. Huffman. "But I'll have to let them in on the bad news: We really don't know the answer.

"There should be a warming coming along as a result of what we're doing to the atmosphere. But the observations are not all that clear. There have been major ups and downs all during recorded history."

Miskus, too, cautioned that "one year does not make a whole pattern."

In the 1970s, when much of the U.S experienced a number of extremely cold winters, "we were talking about a little Ice Age," Miskus said. "The '80s was among the warmest decades on record, but one decade does not make a whole pattern. If it happens through the '90s, we'll see."

Last December was the coldest on record in Baltimore, Huffman said. The average at BWI was just 24.5 degrees. It was snowy and stayed below freezing for 11 straight days.

"People were ready to say that global warming was a hoax," he said. "We were all freezing to death around here."

This December, Davis said, the average temperature is running about 40.5 degrees at BWI, 4 degrees above normal and more typical of December in Knoxville, Tenn.

"We had only one day above 54 degrees in December last year," Davis said. "This year we've had nine."

One of those days was yesterday when an airport high of 68 degrees was reached at 7 p.m., one degree off the record high for this date in 1984, Shaver said. The high downtown was 67, two degrees off the 1984 record high. There could be even more days above 54 this week before cooler -- not cold -- weather arrives Sunday. Temperatures today were to reach the upper 50s, dropping to around 50 tomorrow and going back up into the mid-50s Friday and Saturday.

1990 began with a tooth-cracking change from that cold December of 1989. It was the warmest January on record in Baltimore, averaging 42 degrees, or 9.3 degrees above normal.

February was the second-warmest ever, averaging 42.3 degrees, degrees above normal.

March was 4.3 degrees above normal, and featured four days of record highs that peaked at 95 degrees on March 12.

During the rest of the year, only May, August and September finished with below-normal temperatures, and none cooler than 1.6 degrees below normal.

Precipitation for the year is running close to normal, totaling 38.86 inches so far at BWI. The average annual precipitation is 41.84 inches.

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