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Expect December's mild, snow-less weather through mid-January

Southern lower Michigan didn’t get a white Christmas in 2018. In fact, it hardly got any snow at all in December, with snow totals falling way below averageacross the region.

Detroit Metro Airport recorded just 0.5 inches of snow for the month—its fourth-least snowiest winter ever recorded. Normal snowfall for December is about 8 inches. Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing also recorded much less snow than average.

And although it wasn’t as historically-unprecedented, December was also much milder than average across Michigan. MLive.com chief meteorologist Mark Torregrossa says that relatively balmy weather should last at least through mid-January—winter’s halfway point.

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Though early January should be “quite a bit warmer than normal,” Torregrossa notes that “We’ll still have cold weather. We’ll still have some snowstorms. But it will just mean probably less snow than average, and probably a little bit less on the heating bill.”

A big contributing factor here, and to our winter weather in general, is the El Niño phenomenon. When warm Pacific surface waters gather off the coast of South America, that generally means a warmer, drier winter for most of North America.

This proved to be an El Niño winter. Though a relatively weak one at first, Torregrossa says it’s been gaining strength—which means it should take us through most of winter’s remaining weeks, though he doesn’t rule out a return to more normal temperatures in late January and February.

“Any cold that comes our way this winter is probably going to be modified some by the El Niño warmth coming off the Pacific,” Torregrossa said.

But don’t count winter out altogether. Torregrossa says that so far this winter’s weather patterns remind him of the winter of 1977-78.

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“Ask anybody that was in Michigan or the Great Lakes in ’78, they say ‘oh wow, blizzard of ’78,” Torregrossa said.

“It was a massive snowstorm. It was one of the biggest, about the second-biggest we ‘ve ever had in parts of southern Michigan. And that was about it for the winter.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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