This is Columbia's eighth warmest winter to date on record

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 | 7:07 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents have been enjoying a spate of unseasonably warm weather during what has been the eighth warmest start to a winter on record.

So far 2012 stands in stark contrast to the previous winter, both in terms of temperature and snowfall.

In Missouri, 63 daily high temperature records were either tied or broken during the first week of the new year, although Columbia didn't make the list. Across the U.S., the first week of 2012 saw 1,332 daily highs broken, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

In terms of snowfall, Columbia has seen a scant 1.3 inches through Tuesday, while there were 12.2 inches of snow by this point last winter before a series of significant snows during February and March.

The main cause for the difference has been a change in the patterns of Arctic oscillation, said Anthony Lupo of the MU Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Although both years have been under the influence of La Niña, Arctic oscillation has been in a zonal trend, meaning the polar jet stream has not formed large troughs that dip deep into the southeastern U.S. and ferry Arctic conditions below the Canadian border.

One benefit of the mild winter is lower heating bills. Using heating degree days as an index, this winter so far has required 24 percent less heating energy compared to last winter.

Natural gas use for home heating in Columbia has decreased 25 to 30 percent, said Fred Luetkemeier, superintendent of gas operations for Ameren Corp.

State climatologist Patrick Guinan cited numerous other benefits to the warm streak, including diminished winter weather stress to exposed livestock, fewer hazardous travel conditions and the economic benefits of more opportunities for construction.

Those benefits are a significant consolation for lost business to companies such as C&C Snow Removal. As long as the warm weather holds, the company — perhaps better known during the rest of the year as C&C Construction — will be concentrating on construction projects that would normally be cut short for the winter season.

Due to the lack of a frost line, "We're able to put concrete in the ground," Rhonda Carlson of C&C said.

Still, Carlson isn't ready to write off the entire winter for C&C Snow Removal.

"I keep saying it didn't hit last year till Feb. 1," Carlson said. Indeed, Columbia saw 23.3 inches fall during February 2011.

Her advice, though, seems to catch the general sentiment about the mild weather around Columbia lately:

"Enjoy it while it lasts."

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