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Record-breaking temperatures possible this week

With a forecast high of 74 degrees Wednesday, temperatures in Columbia could break records.

Wednesday’s expected spike in temperature comes amid a trend of unseasonably warm weather that has lingered in mid-Missouri for much of December.

Eric Aldrich, a professor of atmospheric science at MU and former KOMU meteorologist, thinks La Nina, a weather pattern that typically means warmer and wetter winters for Missouri, is to blame.

La Nina is characterized by cold water and high pressure over the south Pacific, which pushes warmer, wetter and stormier systems from the western Pacific into the Midwest.

The weather pattern has become extreme as cold fronts and warm fronts have been mixing throughout the Midwest, in a weather occurrence called mid-latitude cyclones.

The observation is backed up by the number of tornadoes impacting the Midwest over the past several weeks, Aldrich said. These cyclones are often responsible for severe weather and have exacerbated the effects of La Nina.

“(Winter heatwaves are) not unheard of, but it doesn’t happen as frequently as what maybe we’ve experienced so far this year,” Aldrich said.

Kenton Gewecke, chief meteorologist at KOMU, expected a warm winter due to La Nina, but volatile weather patterns caused by climate change have made predicting extreme weather in advance difficult, he said.

“I expected an above-average winter in terms of temperature and severe weather,” said Gewecke.

Gewecke expects temperatures to get closer to seasonal averages after Wednesday’s spike.

“The warmer pattern does look to die off a bit,” he said. “Although it’s still likely temperatures will be slightly above average.”

Aldrich thinks temperatures will stabilize as the winter progresses.

“I think by January, we’ll start to see some indications that more typical Missouri winter temperatures will start to move on in,” he said.

Although December’s temperatures this year have been well above-average, Aldrich said he believes there isn’t enough evidence to draw conclusions on whether this pattern will repeat. There also appears to be little risk for far-reaching climate impacts due to the warm spell.

“This time of the year (is) where people are really just concerned about drought, and, you know, we are not in a big drought situation right now,” said Aldrich.

While it may be too early to be called the new norm, December’s temperature spike follows a consistent increase in average temperatures for the month, a trend that has been reflected in all winter months.

“December is one of our fastest-warming months,” Gewecke said. “Winter is our fastest-warming season.”

Editing by: Fred Anklam

Matthew McFarland is a junior at the University of Missouri studying writing and reporting. He comes to the J-school from Ohio, and hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.