Here we are, nearing the end of February, and the snow shovels are gathering cobwebs in the garage. The kids’ snowpants and boots are still in storage and we really never graduated from mid-weight-December-coat season to dead-of-winter-brave-the-elements-coat season. How many mornings have we even had to scrape ice off our windshields? Not many.
Meteorologists predict four of the next five days will top out around 50 degrees, but it’s not an unseasonable warm spell. It’s what we’ve been seeing most of the season. Even the groundhog is on board with the mild winter, proclaiming, with the absence of his shadow, that this is all she wrote for winter 2019-2020.
If this winter has seemed unusual, that’s because it is. The National Weather Service uses the phrase “almost unprecedented.” As of mid-February, Washington, D.C.’s temperature has failed to drop below 22 degrees even once. NWS Baltimore/Washington says that has only happened in one other year on record: winter 1931-32.
Why is this happening? NWS explains that low pressure is keeping the cold air consolidated near the North Pole. In meteorological terms, the Arctic Oscillation Index has reached a record high. The previous record was set 30 years ago. Regardless of the science, one thing about our mild winter is clear: it’s a good time to be outside.
Sure, with temperatures mostly in the 40s, it’s not quite warm enough for sunbathing or picnics. But there are an awful lot of other ways to enjoy the Chesapeake Bay region when there isn’t much frigid, bitter cold to contend with.
This issue of Bay Weekly looks at the world of possibilities a mild winter offers us. Steve Carr—tour guide, environmental enthusiast and champion of public lands—brings us a “trifecta” of outdoor activities that probably wouldn’t occur to most of us this time of year. When was the last time you hiked in Sandy Point State Park and really took it in? Would you think to visit the National Mall’s lesser-known spots on a self-guided tour in February?
How about starting your garden with a month of winter yet to go? In Gardening for Health, we learn it’s time to start growing vegetables indoors, gradually acclimating them to the outdoors in time for spring. There are also great opportunities for wildlife-watching. This week’s Creature Feature finds columnist Wayne Bierbaum attracting entire families of bluebirds to his yard, something he says we can do at home, too.
We hear what you may be saying: “But winter’s not over yet! Don’t crow about it and curse us with a last-chance snowstorm!”
It’s true, there’s a reasonable chance we could still get some winter weather before it’s time to send the kids’ outgrown, unused snow boots to Goodwill. In fact, four of the last ten years gave us a late-winter blast. According to NWS Baltimore/Washington, March was the snowiest month in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018. And it’s not unheard of for the tail end of winter to bring the coldest temperatures of the year, either—NWS cites eight different years in Washington, D.C.’s history when the coldest day happened in March.
But with no blizzards looming in the very near future, we hope Bay Weekly will inspire you to embrace the mild winter while we’ve got it.