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It hasn't been a winter wonderland so far

POSTED: February 2, 2009 12:02 a.m.

Today is Groundhog Day, and whether or not the chubby rodent sees his shadow, we can predict one thing with absolute certainty: There will be six more weeks of winter.

That’s because Feb. 2 falls exactly halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, when spring begins.

Groundhog Day originated out of an ancient Christian holiday called Candlemas, when people celebrated the fact that winter was half over.

Back in the days when heating sources were scarce, surviving winter was an ordeal. Now, most of us just crank up the thermostat in our comfortable homes. But let’s face it: We’re all a little sick of winter at this point, even if scientists say the season hasn’t been all that bad.

"So far, winter has been warmer and drier than usual, as predicted," said Nate Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City. "January was slightly warmer than normal, and rainfall was below normal."

It’s true that Gainesville has been hit by a number of fierce Arctic blasts this winter. But those blustery cold fronts have been balanced out by periods of mild weather.

"Early in Christmas week, temperatures were in the teens here and even in the single digits in the mountains," said Georgia state climatologist David Stooksbury. "But then by Christmas it was back in the 60s."

Stooksbury calls this the roller-coaster effect, and he said it happens when
Georgia is neither in a La Niño nor a La Niña climate pattern.

"This (fluctuation) is pretty classic for a neutral winter pattern," he said.

0Stooksbury said the oceans appear to be shifting toward a La Niña, but it’s too early to predict how this might effect Georgia’s weather.

December’s lowest low and lowest high both occurred on the same day, Dec. 22, when Gainesville’s temperature dropped to about 17 at night and only got up to about 37 during the day.

January’s lowest low occurred on Jan. 16, when the nighttime low was 13 degrees and the daytime high was only about 33. Nighttime temperatures dropped into the teens again on Jan. 21.

"This winter has been fairly mild, but Southern Co. (Georgia Power’s parent company) hit two all-time peaks (for electricity demand) on Jan. 16 and Jan. 21," said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace.

On the other hand, Jan. 6 was the warmest day of the month, with temperatures in the upper 60s. That day also produced most of January’s rainfall.

Mayes said because January was so dry, we didn’t get any of the major snow or ice events that typically occur at that time of year.

"We’re still in a drought," he said. "We’re not getting snow for the same reason we’re not getting rain."

So, what’s in store for the rest of the winter? Mayes said it’s not true that the risk of wintry weather disappears as the calendar edges toward spring.

"It’s like the flip of a coin," he said. "You can’t say that snow is more likely early in the winter and ice storms are more likely later."

Only a few degrees may separate the chances for rain, freezing rain, or snow, and Mayes said it’s impossible to predict which conditions will occur and where.

"Snow is more common than ice storms in North Georgia," he said. "But whether precipitation falls as snow or freezing rain it depends on whether colder temperatures come through while there’s still a lot of moisture here."



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