State climatologist: 'Expect rollercoaster temps this winter'

By Johnny Jackson


Georgians can expect a roller coaster winter, with temperatures jumping between warm and extremely cold, according to State Climatologist David Stooksbury.

Though Atlantans felt the day-long chill of near, or below freezing, temperatures Monday, they can expect to see temperatures rise fairly quickly to near 70 degrees by Thursday.

The early-week winter blitz brought sustained winds of 20 miles-per-hour in some parts of metro Atlanta, downing fallen power lines that left 3,000 Georgia Power customers without electricity.

Thursday promises a bit more sultry weather for parts of metro Atlanta. There will be a 50 percent chance of rain tonight and early Thursday, with temperatures expected to top the mid-60s.

The trend in fluctuating weather is somewhat typical for Georgia in December, though not as extreme most years.

According to Stooksbury, the Southeast is in a neutral phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), when surface temperatures around the equator in the Pacific Ocean fluctuate.

The neutral phase normally brings a winter with wide swings in temperatures. Meaning, Georgia can expect extremely cold periods, with single digits in the mountains, and the lower 20s in south and coastal Georgia. Between the extremely cold periods, however, warm temperatures, in the 70s, can be expected.

Last winter, a La Niña ENSO phase influenced Georgia's weather, Stooksbury said. Likewise, this winter has the potential to be a devastating winter, in which higher elevation temperatures can dip into the single digits.

"All devastating freezes that have affected the Southeast have occurred during neutral winters," he said. "Devastating freezes for Georgia have been ones with temperatures below zero in the mountains, around 10 degrees along the coast and single digits in south Georgia."

Every neutral winter will not necessarily have a devastating freeze, but the odds are greatly increased, Stockbrury said. Georgians are urged to take the necessary safety precautions and cost-cutting measures this winter.

Georgia Power officials, for instance, say consumers can save energy and money during times of temperature fluctuations by simply setting the thermostat on automatic at a certain temperature (68 degrees) and keeping it there throughout the season.

Coupled with neutral winters is variant rain fall; some neutral winters are very wet, while others are very dry. "At this time, we don't know what we'll get," Stooksbury said. "Whether Georgia experiences a wet or dry winter will depend on the number of low-pressure systems that develop in the northern Gulf of Mexico and move across the state.

"We do know, however, that the past 15 winters have been drier than the long-term average," he added. "Given this trend, the best rainfall outlook for the winter is to hedge our bets that the winter will be drier than the long-term average."

Northeastern and north-central parts of the state are still in extreme drought. Though local reservoirs are near full, some of the state's major watershed areas persist in rainfall deficits. Among them are major reservoirs and lakes, such as Lanier, Hartwell, Russell and Clarks Hill that are near or below their record lows.

"If the state does not receive adequate rains this winter, the probability of the drought expanding will increase," Stooksbury said.

The area's first chance of rain will be late Wednesday and early Thursday. There will be a 50 percent chance of showers on Christmas Day, with temperatures warming up from the low 50s, to highs near the mid-60s. Rain chances continue through the weekend with a 40 percent chance on Saturday and a 30 percent chance on Sunday.


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