Warm temps redefining winter landscape across country

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At the National Arboretum, the white petals of snowdrops — normally an early spring flower — have unfurled. In Maine’s Acadia National Park, lakes still have patches of open water instead of being frozen solid. And in Donna Izlar’s back yard in downtown Atlanta, the apricot tree has started blooming.

It’s not in your imagination. The unusually mild temperatures across several regions of the country in the past few months are disrupting the natural cycles that define the winter landscape.

What began as elevated temperatures at the start of fall in parts of the United States have become “dramatically” warmer around the Great Lakes and New England, according to Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. And in the Washington area, the region is on track for its fourth-warmest year on record, along with its seventh-warmest December.

That, in turn, has created conditions where plants are blooming earlier and some birds are lingering before moving south.

“It’s a weird kind of fall blending right into spring,” said Scott Aker, head of horticulture at National Arboretum.

The pattern is most pronounced in eastern Montana, northeastern Minnesota and parts of North Dakota, Arndt said, where December temperatures so far have averaged 10 degrees above normal. But the mild weather extends to other Great Lakes states along with New England and the mid-Atlantic, with temperatures this month averaging between six and eight degrees above normal.

Just 19.6 percent of the continental United States is now covered in snow, according to the latest snow analysis by NOAA, compared with 50.3 percent this time last year.

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