The Heat Is Online

Warmest winter on record Russia, France and parts of US

Moscow crushes record for warmest winter as milestones are set across Europe and North America

The Washington Post, March 2, 2020

The meteorological winter of 2019-2020 shattered temperature records in Russia and France as well as other parts of Europe and the United States. In Moscow, this was the warmest winter in nearly 200 years of record-keeping, and the first winter there to have an average temperature at or above 32 degrees (0 Celsius).

The average winter temperature during the months of December, January and February in Moscow was 32.3 degrees (0.2 Celsius), which is 11.3 degrees (6.3 Celsius) above the 1981-2010 average, and shatters the previous record held by the winter of 1960-61 by an astonishing 3.5 degrees (2.8 Celsius), according to Etienne Kapikian of Meteo France, along with the Russian TASS news agency.

In Moscow, officials brought in artificial snow for New Year’s celebrations because both December and January hit monthly temperature records as the city went through a rare snow drought.

Data is still coming in, but it’s possible that Russia as a whole set a record its warmest winter yet as unusually mild conditions were seen in Siberia as well.

Other parts of Europe also missed out on winter.

In Helsinki, no snow fell in January or February for the first time on record, and just 0.2 centimeters fell during the entire winter. Not surprisingly, Finland saw record warmth for the season.

France as a whole had its warmest winter on record. According to Meteo France, the average temperature this winter was 4.86 degrees (2.7 Celsius) above average.

In Germany, the country’s ice wine harvest failed for the first time on record as temperatures failed to drop as low as 19 degrees in any of the country’s 13 wine-growing regions, according to Ernst Büscher from the German Wine Institute (DWI), in a statement. Ice wine is a sweet dessert wine produced from frozen grapes.

 “The 2019 vintage will go down in history here in Germany as the first vintage in which the ice wine harvest couldn’t be produced nationwide,” the statement said. The amount of ice wine produced in Germany has been declining in recent years as winters have warmed, but production was still possible until this year.

“If the warm winters continue in the next few years, ice wines from German wine regions will soon become even more of a rarity than they already are,” Büscher said. In general, the wine industry already is seeing the effects from climate change, with vintners from Napa to the Loire Valley having to adapt to more scorching summers and wild swings in temperature and precipitation patterns.

Numerous U.S. cities also had a top five warmest winter, particularly areas east of the Mississippi River, with well-below-average snowfall along the East Coast in particular. In Washington, through Monday, only 0.6 inches of snow accumulated for the winter, compared with the average of 15.4 inches.

Record strong Arctic Oscillation plus global warming equals a missing winter

The causes of the unusually mild winter were a one-two punch of an extreme weather pattern in the Arctic as well as global warming, which tilts the odds in favor of warm extremes. It’s often the case that when natural climate variability lines up with human-caused climate change, warm temperature extremes tend to result. This occurred when a strong El Niño event in 2015-2016 led to the planet’s warmest year since instrument records began.

This winter, the Arctic Oscillation, which is a pattern of atmospheric pressure over the North Atlantic, locked into an extreme positive phase. Low pressure was present over the Arctic, with high pressure over the North Atlantic to the south. The polar vortex, which is an area of low pressure at the upper levels of the atmosphere, stayed strong throughout the winter, which caused cold air to stay bottled up over the Far North.

Alaska, which is the United States’ only Arctic state, had a colder-than-average winter. Fairbanks had its second-coldest winter in 40 years. The Arctic Oscillation, plus patterns of climate variability over the northeastern Pacific Ocean, also helped to cause winter rains to go missing in parts of California, particularly during February.

It’s possible that the meteorological winter months set a record for the hottest such season on record in the Northern Hemisphere, given the unusually high temperatures that dominated a vast swath of real estate, from Vladivostok, Russia, to Paris and into the Lower 48 states.

The first indications of that will come this week, when the Copernicus Climate Change Service reveals its global temperature data.