It looks as if the groundhog got it right – at least for the next few weeks.
“So, an early spring it will be,” was the prediction Feb. 2 after Punxsutawney Phil failed to see his shadow.
Now the meteorologists are making similar predictions.
Once the next blast of cold air – some of the most frigid of the season – moves past the Northeast by the end of the week, the weather forecasters say the temperature will start to feel less like the Yukon and more like some of those March days when you can actually eat lunch outside without watching your soup develop a layer of ice on top.
The change will be dramatic: As of Thursday evening about 60 percent of the nation will have snow on the ground, says Accuweather.com. But, by the end of next week, less than 25 percent of the country will be covered with the white stuff.
“It will be one of the biggest meltdowns we have ever seen but with very little in the way of flood problems,” says Henry Margusity, senior meteorologist at Accu-Weather.com in State College, Pa. “The back of winter has been broken.”
It will be a very sharp contrast for places like Dallas, site of the recent SuperBowl, and Ground Zero for unwanted snowstorms that shut down the airport and caused rolling electrical blackouts last week.
“I’ve lived here for 35 or 40 years and never remember as much bad weather for as long as we had last week,” says John Crawford of Downtown Dallas, Inc. “We look forward to temperatures in the sixties so we can get back to promoting visitors and relocations.”
Greenland block breaking down
Behind the warm-up is a shift in the weather pattern. An area of high pressure that has spent the last few months over Greenland is finally breaking down. The high pressure system had served as a block, forcing the jet stream to run straight up the East Coast, resulting in cold weather in the eastern third of the nation and snow storm after snow storm.
“That wall is breaking down, allowing the jet stream to flow more evenly across the country,” says Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer at Planalytics in Berwyn, Pa. “When that happens, the weather moderates, we get significantly nicer weather.” [Editor's note: The spelling of Berwyn, Pa., has been corrected.]
Mr. Bernhardt says there will still be some periods of rain, but “it will feel like such a nice break from what we were experiencing.”
Spring this early may seem unusual after last year. Last February and early March, the mid-Atlantic states were buffeted by blizzard after blizzard. Places like Washington, D.C. could measure the snowfall by the foot. This winter, most of the snow was in the Northeast in places like New York, Hartford and Boston. Because the temperature rarely broke the freezing mark, much of it is still on the ground.
Return of the happy consumer
If the weather cooperates with the forecast, Bernhardt says there are some ramifications for the economy, as well: the malls may start to fill-up.
“Two-thirds of the country has cabin fever,” he says.
Once consumers get cabin fever, one of the first things they do is go shopping, says Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation in Washington. “A lot of people are tired of wearing their winter clothes and are ready for some fresh apparel.”
Warmer weather will also put consumers in a better mood.
In Bethlehem, Pa., Linda Cameron says the worst part of this winter was all the ice. She is looking forward to being able to go for walks without worrying about falling. “I almost bought it so many times,” she says.
Christine Cannon of Haymarket, Va. says the warmer weather means she won’t have to nag her four children, ages four to eleven, about wearing their hats and coats all the time. “ ‘What is it you don’t understand about winter?’ I’ve been asking them.”
And, New York resident Sharon Gamsin says the better weather means she won’t have to spend so much money plowing out her weekend cottage in Great Barrington, Mass. “It’s costing me a fortune,” she says. “I’ve had to have the roof cleared three times and some of the snow storms have been so heavy, I’ve had to pay for them to come twice in one day.”