December outlook: Forget about a winter wonderland, El Nino pattern to lead to widespread warmth

If the climate outlook is accurate, it would mean December 2023 would be warmer than last year across the country. The warmest December on record occurred in 2021 when the average December temperature was 6.7 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

If the latest climate outlook from NOAA for the first month of meteorological winter pans out, residents across the Lower 48 will be asking what heat records will be broken versus any sign of Old Man Winter.

The agency’s Climate Prediction Center expects greater than average odds that warmer than normal weather will dominate in 47 out of 48 states, putting the month on track to challenge heat records set during the past couple of winters.

According to forecasters, a robust El Niño weather pattern will be responsible for the heat and what areas of the country will see precipitation.

The highest odds of finding temperatures above average exists across the Plains and Midwest as a ridge of high pressure is expected to establish itself for an extended period of time, keeping arctic fronts at bay.

Areas of the country that might see temperatures closer to average are in the West and possibly the Southeast, as more cloud cover and rounds of precipitation will be possible.

Off-and-on precipitation from atmospheric rivers and a robust southern jet stream are expected to lead to continued chances of precipitation along the West Coast, Southeast and mid-Atlantic.

It is important to note that NOAA forecasts largely do not consider microclimates, which happen on a more local scale.

While many in the East consider the winter of 2022-23 to have been warm, with a lack of snowfall, those nearest to the Great Lakes experienced the opposite.

A warm winter can keep the lakes largely free of ice and, therefore, open to the potential of lake effect snow events.

Last season, the National Weather Service reported Buffalo saw one of its top five snowiest seasons on record, but just a few miles away, communities clamored for snowfall.


December has become a broken record with heat

If a warmer-than-average December is all you remember, your mind isn’t deceiving you.

For nearly the last decade, temperatures across the majority of the country have been above the long-term average for the first month of meteorological winter.

In fact, 2021 was the warmest December on record, according to NOAA. The average temperature was 39.3 degrees Fahrenheit, some 6.7 degrees above average.

The last time the contiguous U.S. reported a December with temperatures below average was in 2013.

Forecasters warn the outlook does not mean pool days will be in store for places such as New York, Chicago or even Minneapolis – it’ll still be chilly but not at levels it should be.

An average mid-December day in Minneapolis starts out in the 20s and reaches around 40 degrees, but if you were to add 10% worth of heat to those figures, lows would start closer to 30 degrees, and highs would reach the mid-40s.

A natural barometer for how warm the prelude to winter has been is the status of national snow cover.

As of November 30, only 16.7% of the country had any type of snowfall, with deficits of precipitation reported in every region.

Snowfall departure from average
(FOX Weather)