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Warmest Winter Yet

The last three months were the warmest on U.S. record books, and January was the warmest in the 123 years that temperatures for that month have been recorded globally. The warmth stretched from western states like Montana and Oklahoma to the East Coast. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont saw the warmest November-January period on record.

The average U.S. temperature measured from November 2001 to January 2002 was 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit above average temperatures recorded between 1895 and 2001, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). ?Unusual warmth persisted across a large part of the contiguous United States during the past few months,? says Jay Lawrimore of NOAA. The same monthly period in 1999-2000 held the previous record.

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Blaine P. Friedlander, Jr. writes in unisci.com that the Northeast?s previous warmest winter was recorded 70 years ago with an average 32 degrees Fahrenheit between Dec. 1, 1931, and Feb. 29, 1932. The region?s second-warmest winter, in 1997-98, had an average of 30.8 degrees.

?If you look at a climate map of the entire region, you'll see that more than half of the Northeast is having its warmest winter ever. Most of the rest of the region is having its second- or third-warmest winter. That?s why I think this winter will go down as the warmest on record for the entire Northeast,? says Keith Eggleston, senior climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) at Cornell.

Eggleston says that while temperatures have been warmer than normal, this is not necessarily part of a larger, global-warming trend. Similar warm winters also occurred in the Northeast in the 1930s.

?The jet stream has been farther to the north than normal. Usually it is a little farther to the south,? says Eggleston. ?This pattern has been fairly consistent all winter long. The jet stream has been surprisingly stable, surprisingly consistent. So we?re not getting the Canadian air or the severe cold outbreaks that we would normally see.?

Boston's record high average temperature of 36.7 degrees, set in 1931-32, is on the verge of being broken. Even a cool spot like Caribou, Maine, currently is averaging 18.3 degrees, making this its warmest winter on record. Caribou's old record of 17.7 degrees, was set in 1959-60.

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Rising concentrations of greenhouse gases may have tipped the world into a changed climate pattern, according to Dr. Peter Whetton and Dr. Wenju Cai of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial and Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia.

Links between a global climate change that began around 1970 and increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are the subject of their investigation. The surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, off the United States and Central America, have been warmer since the mid-1970s than at any time in the past. Temperatures of the ocean surface in this region have been up to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were in the first half of the 20th century.

Cai and Whetton used specialized computer programs to show that the change was caused by warm water in the oceans at high latitudes being carried to the eastern Pacific by deep ocean currents. The process takes about 30 years. They believe that higher levels of greenhouse gases may be the cause of the climatic shift in the Pacific. ?Our climate models are matching what we see in the real world,? says Cai.

The warmest year between 1860 and now occurred in 1998, according to records maintained by Members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990, and the global average surface temperature in 2001 was the second warmest on record.

Warmer conditions in the eastern equatorial Pacific are normally associated with El Ni?o events. El Ninos occur every two to seven years, and normally lead to lower rainfall in eastern and southern Australia. The last El Ni?o was in 1997 and 1998 and another one is predicted in 2002.

While meteorologists say that El Ni?o events are a natural part of the climate system that have been affecting the Pacific Basin for thousands of years, they cause droughts and severe storms around the world. Cai says, ?The [warming] change doesn?t mean that we will have more El Ni?o events, but those that do occur may be stronger.?

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