The Outlook: The calm after the storm

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"Of winter's lifeless world each tree

Now seems a perfect part;

Yet each one holds summer's secret

Deep down within its heart."  — Charles G. Stater

Once again, an especially unpredictable and basically mild winter has flummoxed forecasters who predicted anywhere from 5 to 9 inches of snow for the Berkshires and surrounding areas over the weekend.

Instead, thanks to a surge of warmer air Saturday night that shot temperatures up toward 32, the snow, which came down at a moderate clip for several hours in the afternoon, petered out and mixed with sleet and freezing rain, especially south of Pittsfield.

The not-so-grand totals reported to the National Weather Service in Albany ranged from a paltry 3 to 3.5 inches in Becket, Lenox and Williamstown to 4 in Pittsfield and a still-moderate 4.7 in Savoy, the high-elevation town that often hits the jackpot for snow totals in our county. At least the drab landscape was whitened just enough to create the typical New England postcard vista.

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Despite a shot of cold air expected over the next three days, January continues to set records for mild temps on 16 out of 19 days so far. By Thursday and into next weekend, daytime highs rebound into the 40s, more than 10 degrees above average, with nighttime lows rarely anywhere close to the typical low of 11 for this stretch of January.

The story of this month and most of winter has been a unique weather pattern, bottling up extremely frigid air masses over Alaska and northern Canada, while an especially vigorous jet stream protects the Northeast from prolonged incursions of cold. It has been an especially dry month in our region, with only 4 to 5 inches of snow so far, compared to a long-term average of 18 inches for January.

A calm week ahead continues the setup with only a 50-50 chance of rain or snow showers by Saturday. Peering beyond, the government's Weather Prediction Center foresees more of the same through the end of the month — mild and dry. But for the first half of February, the forecasters expect a switch to below-normal temperatures, but still less snow than usual.

On the bright side, heating costs are running about 20 percent below normal for this month, and 10 percent below for the heating season that began in October. But on a less happy note for the fragile winter season tourism economy, hotel patronage seems down, according to anecdotal reports, with fewer out-of-county visitors inspired to visit ski country.

As we've gained a half-hour of daylight since the winter solstice a month ago, the sun is gradually strengthening, and average temperatures are just a few days away from beginning their slow but steady rise toward the vernal equinox on March 19.

For those of you counting the days: The winter weather season is half over!

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.


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