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Climate change + El Niño = Freakish winter weather

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The weather maps look unusually crazy this winter.

Most meteorologists saw this winter's El Niño pattern developing. I wrote about the likelihood of a milder than average winter in Minnesota last fall. But I must admit the magnitude and staying power of unseasonably mild temperatures this winter is a bit surprising.

December was 6 degrees warmer than average overall in the Twin Cities. Temperature departures from average were even bigger across northern Minnesota. December falls among the 10 warmest historically across Minnesota.

You can clearly see how the Upper Midwest bathed in a sea of warm colors in December on this analysis from the Midwest Regional Climate Center.

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December temperature departure from average via Midwest Regional Climate Center.

Unusual jet stream pattern 

The jet stream is unusually far north this winter. El Niño winters cause changes in jet stream patterns across North America. The interaction between warm water in the tropical Pacific and the atmosphere exerts forces on atmospheric flow patterns.

El Niño isn't like Vegas. What happens in the tropical Pacific doesn't stay in the tropical Pacific.


This week's jet stream rides north of the Canadian border once again. This configuration drives mild Pacific air into Minnesota from the west.

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NOAA upper air forecast for 6 pm CST Friday January 4.

Record warmth ahead?

Our inbound air mass could challenge record highs in the Twin Cities and much of southern Minnesota Friday and Saturday. Friday's record high at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is 41-degrees. Saturday's record is 47-degrees. The average high this weekend in the Twin Cities? 23 degrees.

This is not normal for January in Minnesota. It's extreme.

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NOAA forecast for Minneapolis via Weather Bell.

Bye-bye snow cover

With daytime highs in the 40s and ample sunshine, our snow cover will likely vanish from the Twin Cities south this weekend. If you want snow to play in head north or west.

Climate change + El Niño = Winter Weather Weirding

That equation is the new abnormal for Minnesota winters the past few decades.

The trends of milder winters in Minnesota is unmistakable. You can clearly see how winter is warming faster than any other season in Minnesota.


Winters in Minnesota are more than 5-degrees warmer on average than 1970. That's a huge climate shift.

And you can blame the nature of greenhouse gasses. Their ability to reradiate is most effective heat at night, in winter. Superimpose an El Niño event on top of climate change winters, and you get this winter.

Thursday on MPR's Climate Cast, I talk with Senior Minnesota DNR climatologist Kenny Blumenfeld about the state of climate change in Minnesota. The segment airs at 4:20 p.m. Thursday on MPR News 91.1 in the Twin Cities, and on MPR stations all across Minnesota.