This morning, Punxsutawny Phil came out of his burrow on a unseasonably warm, sunny day, and predicted six more weeks of winter — but much of the United States has skipped the season entirely. Punxsutawny, like most of the United States, has been experiencing a freakishly warm winter, as our planet’s climate heats up from greenhouse pollution. A record high of 59°F was set in Punxsutawny on Tuesday — the mean high based on previous decades is 34 degrees. Today, instead of the chilly, snowy 17-degree morning that was normal when the Bill Murray film was made in 1993, the crowd cheered on the groundhog at above-freezing temperatures.
Much of the country is experiencing a “year without winter,” with thousands of daily record highs set in January. Even including Alaska — which has been seeing some record-cold temperatures as the Arctic climate grows more unstable — there were 22 times as many record highs as there were record lows in January. (Without global warming, one would expect about the same number of record highs as record lows.) Excluding Alaska, the lower 48 states saw 29 times as many record highs as record lows.
Many people in the United States are enjoying the warm weather, but it’s also bringing weird and dangerous change. In Washington DC, cherry trees are already budding. WIth hibernation signals disrupted, suburbs are seeing an influx of bears. Wheat crops are threatened as the warmth saps soil moisture. With the acceleration of global warming due to ever more fossil fuel pollution in the atmosphere, these disruptions are only a small hint of what is to come in future decades.
The year 2006 will probably remain the record warmest winter for the United States, with 2011 coming in close behind.