Jen Sherman of Baltimore, front, was completing a 4.5 mile run… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
You don't need a groundhog to tell you which way winter is going.
Temperatures are expected to climb into the 60s Tuesday and Wednesday — not into record-breaking territory, but enough to extend lunch breaks into the afternoon, confuse hibernating crocuses and cause Punxsutawney Phil to throw up his paws in disgust.
"These are unpredictable times," said Debbie Ricigliano, a horticultural consultant for the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center. "I've been here since 1997, and I don't remember a time like this."
The center is fielding a steady stream of calls from folks who have one eye on the thermometer and the other on the seed catalog. Ricigliano is urging patience, noting that planting and pruning too soon might have dire consequences if winter changes its mind.
But waiting is not in the game plan for runners and bicyclists.
"There are many more people out on the roads and streets than before," said Jim Adams, owner of Falls Road Running Store. "It's just like running in the fall and spring right now."
Cabin fever hardly broke a sweat in January. Temperatures were above 50 degrees on a dozen days; one day, Jan. 7, topped out at 66 degrees. Through Sunday, this month has averaged 37.9 degrees, nearly 5 degrees above the long-term average and the warmest January since 2007.
The month will end with 1.3 inches of snow recorded in Baltimore, far below the average of 6.8 inches.
Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist at the national Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, said the last day of January and the first day of February aren't likely to make the record books. The mark for Jan. 31 is 69 degrees, set in 1947. The record for Feb. 1 is 75 degrees, set a decade ago.
The jet stream has stayed to the north of the Mid-Atlantic region for most of the season, allowing higher temperatures to move in from the south, Jackson said.
That's good news for consumers paying fuel bills. Because of the mild weather, degree days, a measure of demand for heat based on the average temperature, are running 14 percent behind the average pace for January.
But it's bad news for retailers, who have had a tough time selling winter coats and boots, snow-removal equipment and de-icers, reported Planalytics, a Pennsylvania-based company that supplies weather-driven data to its clients.
On the other hand, the trade group Snowsports Industry America reported last week that sales nationwide through December reached $2.2 billion, just 2 percent below last season's record sales.
The nation's warmer weather prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update its plant hardiness zone map last week for the first time in two decades. The color-coded map, used by gardeners to time their spring plantings, increased the temperature in each zone by about 5 degrees and added two warmer zones to the map.
The recent warm days may confuse some bugs like wasps that will awaken to look for nesting spots, then retreat to cover when the temperature plunges, said Stanton Gill, an entomologist with the University of Maryland Extension.
"It's not enough to kill them. As far as having an insect-free summer, it ain't going to happen," he said. "Bugs have been here 300 million years. They're tough. They've been through Ice Ages, and they can handle almost anything."
The same goes for golfers itching to squeeze in nine or 18 holes before the real season begins.
John Payne, director of instruction at Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville, said requests for tee times begin to inch up with the thermometer.
"When you get mild weather like this, when you get up into the 60s, everybody wants to play a little hooky," he said. "With all the bad news in the world, we can use a little good weather."
However, the warm spell is not going to last. A modified Canadian high pressure system is expected to settle over the region Friday, bringing daytime highs back into the 40s. A low-pressure system with precipitation is expected to elbow its way in on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, Jackson said.
So what will February bring?
Last February was the warmest since 2002, but the year before brought Snowmageddon.
"There's still plenty of winter left," said Jackson. "And for snow lovers, there's still lots of time."