While spring officially begins on March 20 and there are signs of a pattern change beginning around that date, winter may not be in a hurry to let go over much of the Central and Eastern states completely.
March is typically a battle of two seasons: winter and spring. While there are indications of an end to the intrusions from the polar vortex and corresponding freezing and subzero weather during the month ahead for many areas of the Midwest and East, this may be a slow spring.
According to Paul Pastelok, head of AccuWeather's Long Range Team, "The pattern causing the persistent cold will not suddenly go away and stay away in the weeks ahead."
Pastelok and crew expect mid-winter style cold to continue more often than not until the third week in March for most areas east of the Rockies.
"Beginning around the third week of March and continuing through much of April in the Midwest and East, the pattern will transition to more of a chilly spring weather pattern," Pastelok said.
The slow spring transition will be complicated by rather wet and stormy weather at times in the Midwest, East and especially the South.
Surges of warmth over the interior South and East, while possibly dramatic over short distances, are likely to be punctuated.
"We just do not see a sudden snap in winter or any long-duration warm, dry weather coming up for most Central and Eastern states until late in the spring," Pastelok said.
Pastelok stated that it may take until late April or May for steady warmth be widespread in the East.
The sputtering warmup could ease concerns for a sudden meltdown and widespread major flooding in the northern tier states. However, the overall chilly wet pattern could lead to some frustration for people with outdoor activities and pothole-dodging motorists. There are some concerns for flooding moving forward into the spring for parts of the interior South to the Midwest.
Why Has It Been so Cold in the Midwest, East?
Steering winds high in the atmosphere, known as the jet stream, have been in a very high amplitude configuration for months.
Early in the winter, the pattern developed big southward dip in much of eastern North America and a northward bulge in western North America.
Since Dec. 1, 2013, Minneapolis has averaged 8 degrees below normal with Chicago at 7 degrees below normal and Detroit 6.5 degrees colder than average.
The persistent cold, accompanied by snow and ice at times, has busted budgets for states, cities and townships and caused tens of thousands of flight cancelations nationally. The extreme winter will force many school districts to alter their spring schedules to make up for lost school days.
Winter Has Not Been Cold Everywhere
According to AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "Despite the cold winter over eastern North America and much of Russia, it was business as usual for much of the globe over the past few months."
Bulges in the jet stream have created well-above average warmth not only in western North America, but also in much of China, Greenland and to some extent western and southern Europe.
According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), January was the second warmest on record in China and the third warmest in Alaska. Records have been kept since 1961 and 1918, respectively.
"Both December 2013 and January 2014 ranked in the top five warmest globally, while 2013 tied for fourth warmest year on record," Anderson said.
Global surface temperature records date back to 1880.
"Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred during the 21st century and only one year, 1998, was warmer than 2013," Anderson said.
January Arctic sea ice extent was below the 30-year average compiled from 1981 to 2010.
In contrast, January Antarctic sea ice extent was the second largest for the 30-year average compiled from 1981 to 2010. So far this winter, the extent of Great Lakes ice is the third largest since records began in the late 1970s.