Weather outside's delightful on another un-wintry day

January 30, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

If this is the dead of winter, the body is still warm.

Temperatures at the airport rose to 72 degrees in hazy sunshine yesterday afternoon -- 30 degrees above normal -- as the region enjoyed the tail-end of a most un-wintry January.

So far, only one day this winter, Dec. 30, has failed to warm past 32 degrees. And there has been just one measurable snowfall, a measly 2.3 inches Jan. 19 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But don't count on more of the same for February.

"The truly heady, intoxicating days, we're having right now," said meteorologist Fred Gadomski of the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

"February may return to something more like the weather we are accustomed to at this time of year -- some mild, some cold, some threats of snow," he said.

But February is another day. Yesterday, there was a five-minute wait for service at Hoffman's Ice Cream in Westminster.

"I picked my granddaughter up from school and promised her an ice cream," said Robert Fischer, waiting to order a homemade chocolate milkshake for 5-year-old Grace Diffendal. "We're taking advantage of the warm weather."

Overall, the ice cream business was up about 50 percent yesterday, said Jeff Hoffman, third-generation owner.

Yesterday was also a day to play hooky and hit the links. At Pine Ridge Golf Course, north of Towson, an estimated 200 people teed off, more than twice the normal crowd for late January.

Meanwhile, people skated in shirtsleeves on the Rash Field ice rink. A flock of robins was spotted in Hunt Valley. And in Annapolis, lunchtime crowds noshed at the City Dock.

"The more people you see [out], the more business," a-rab Glenn Bailey said as he showed off a flat of strawberries on North Caroline Street in Baltimore.

Temperatures reached 73 at 3 p.m. in Frederick and the Inner Harbor. It was 71 in Salisbury; 62 at Ocean City; 79 degrees in Petersburg and Chesapeake, Va.; and 68 in New York's Central Park.

Temperatures in November, December and January have averaged more than 5 degrees above normal. That has happened only three other times since record-keeping began in 1871 -- in 1931-32, 1946-47, and 1994-95.

Meteorologists point to a strong and persistent jet stream that has been blowing from the west-southwest toward the east-northeast all month, blocking the advance of arctic air lurking to the north.

"It has been tremendously cold for the last couple of weeks in Canada," Gadomski said. Thermometers in Key Lake, Saskatchewan, registered minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit last week. "And that's without any of that wind chill malarkey."

Look for a slow cool-down the rest of the week as the jet stream shifts southward. The highs today should reach the lower 60s, followed by 50s tomorrow and Friday, and 40s this weekend.

February looks colder, Gadomski said. "That's not to say it will be bitterly cold. But ... whatever cold air there is in Canada will at least be able to make a run at us."

November averaged 50.7 degrees -- 5.2 degrees above normal. It was the 12th-warmest November on record in Baltimore.

December averaged 42.1 degrees, or 5.4 degrees above normal. Record daily highs of 73 and 75 degrees were set on Dec. 1 and 5, respectively.

January's temperatures have averaged 37.6 degrees through the 28th, or 5.4 degrees above normal. But daily records have held. Yesterday's high of 72 degrees failed to reach the record of 75, set in 1975.

The mild weather has saved Marylanders a bundle in heating costs -- not to mention costs of salting and plowing.

Homeowners who heat with electricity might have seen an average savings of 10.6 percent, or about $19 in their monthly bill, said Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. No comparable figures were available for gas-heat customers.

Marylanders haven't had to heat their homes against an outbreak of arctic air since January 1994, Gadomski said. So is this global warming?

Scientists, of course, disagree, he said. "I think for Baltimore the answer is that, even if the globe is warming, it is going to do so in an uneven and unpredictable way from year to year, and winter will not be canceled."

Sun staff writers Brenda Buote, Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ariel Sabar contributed to this article.

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