Warmer-than-usual temperatures are on the horizon for the next week or so, and Madison-area residents were taking advantage of the reprieve Friday before real winter sets in.
Leslie Warner and her son spent some time Friday morning at the swing set at Orton Park. Warner’s nearly 1½-year-old son, Oscar, toddled exuberantly in the mulch around the swings.
“It’s nice to be able to get outside,” Warner said on a day in which the high in Madison hit 49 degrees, 15 degrees above the normal high for the day. “And (Oscar) loves it.”
Farther west at Vilas Park, another family was enjoying the unseasonably warm conditions.
Julie Schmitz, who just moved back to Wisconsin from her home in Florida, brought her daughter and father to the playground.
“We’re just tired of being in the house,” Schmitz said.
Her 2½-year-old daughter, Faith, has never experienced a full Wisconsin winter, save for some time spent visiting her grandparents for the holidays.
But it looks like Faith’s first Wisconsin winter might be abnormally mild, said professor Jon Martin of UW-Madison’s department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and one of the “Weather Guys” whose column runs in the Wisconsin State Journal on Mondays.
“Given our El Niño, I would be willing to bet that this winter will be warmer than normal and, after the last two which have been rather cold, it might end up seeming unduly mild,” said Martin.
El Niño is a phenomenon marked by warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures along the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean, Martin said.
The unusual position of warm water shifts the locations of tropical thunderstorms to the east, which alters the locations and intensities of jet streams.
These shifts and changes can create weather anomalies in North America.
The warmest Dec. 5 on record was in 2001 with a high of 64 degrees, said meteorologist Sean Miller of the National Weather Service in Sullivan.
“I am not sure if the current warm spell is strongly related to the El Niño,” said Martin. “What is driving our warm start to this December is going to take some analysis.”
The warm spell isn’t bound to last long, however; forecasts call for temperatures to drop to, or below, average by Dec. 15.
Martin noted that 11-day forecasts “should be viewed with some skepticism,” but “we are not going to avoid winter forever.”