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The Outlook: After fierce winds, a quiet, mild week is shaping up

It was another wild weather ride in the Berkshires on Saturday night, with the leading edge of colder air slicing through the region with out-of-season thunderstorms and fierce winds.

Just before the cold front punched through around 10 p.m., a record high for the date, 61, was set at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, eclipsing the previous record of 55 set in 1966.

The strongest wind gust there was 51 mph. National Weather Service observers in Williamstown reported the highest winds in the Berkshires, at 57 mph, while Harriman & West Airport in North Adams clocked 55 mph. These were the strongest recorded in the entire western New England and eastern New York region.

Other observations ranged from 44 mph in Adams to 30 mph in Great Barrington.

The worst damage was observed in Cheshire, with trees and wires down in several areas.

Meanwhile, Monday gets the week off to a great start, at least by mid-December standards, with sunny skies, and highs well up in the 40s. That’s 10 degrees above average. It will be mild all week, and mostly free of rain or snow.

The historical average for mid-month ranges from a daytime high of 36 to a predawn low of 22. Cold air remains bottled up well to our north. It will be especially mild on Thursday, with highs well up in the 50s. Next weekend, there’s an outside chance of wintry precipitation, but nothing to get excited about for now.

The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for Dec. 19-25 maintains the pattern of above-normal temperatures and precipitation, more likely rain than snow.

NATIONAL OVERVIEW

The devastating tornado outbreak of nearly 40 separate funnels claimed nearly 100 lives, if not more, in the South and Midwest late Friday and early Saturday. Thousands of people woke up to power blackouts on Sunday, as rescuers continue to comb through rubble and officials work to determine the exact number of deaths.

The largest supercell tornado rampaged through parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, carving a destructive path for 240 miles, likely a long-distance record. It tossed debris up to 30,000 feet into the air.

“Friday night was one of the most shocking weather events in my 40 years as a meteorologist — a violent tornado (in December!) drawing comparisons to the deadliest and longest-tracking tornado in U.S. history,” tweeted Jeff Masters at Yale Climate Connections, an expert on extreme weather.

As the death toll is expected to rise, it would become the deadliest December tornado outbreak on record and potentially among the most deadly in any month. Previously, the most destructive outbreak this month occurred on Dec. 5, 1953, when 38 people were killed in Vicksburg, Miss.

The 219-mile-long Tri-State Tornado of March 1925 ranks as the deadliest in U.S. history. It killed 695 people as it rumbled through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in the dark of night.

Friday night in hard-hit Kentucky, at least 70 were feared killed at a family-run candle factory in Mayfield. In Edwardsville, Illinois, 25 miles east of St. Louis, an extended search effort continued Sunday at an Amazon warehouse, where at least six people died.

Tennessee reported three weather-related deaths and Missouri at least two. In Arkansas, at least two were killed, including a man in his 80s after a tornado struck a nursing home where aides used their own bodies as shields to protect residents.

The storm system and its cold front also generated very strong winds in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, where hundreds of thousands of customers lost power, and also impacted the Northeast, though less severely.

For the week ahead, heavy rain is possible over parts of central California Monday, moving into the southern part of the state late in the day into Tuesday. Another surge of rain is due in Oregon and northern California at midweek and again next weekend.

Looking for natural snow? You’ll find plenty of it over the Cascades, Sierra Nevada Mountains and Northern Rockies. A critical fire risk continues for parts of the Southern High Plains, including the Texas panhandle, because of record warmth and strong winds.

In the Midwest, record high temperatures — up to 40 degrees above normal — are expected by midweek, followed by another round of strong winds, moderate rainfall and then a cool-down.

If you’re heading to the Southeast from the Carolinas to Florida during the week leading up to Christmas Day, it should be exceptionally warm.

CLIMATE OVERVIEW

Citing the deadly storms that ravaged parts of the South and the Midwest this weekend, climate scientists note that while the exact link between global warming and tornadoes remains uncertain, higher temperatures could add fuel to these violent disasters.

According to Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University, the warm December air mass in much of the country set the stage for a turbulent outbreak.

Temperatures in the zone ravaged by tornadoes rose into the 70s to near 80 degrees, providing the conditions for severe thunderstorms to develop late Friday. In Memphis, a high of 79 broke a 103-year-old record.

In a warming world, Gensini said, “it’s absolutely fair to say that the atmospheric environments will be more supportive for cool-season tornado events.”

“Studies suggest that the frequency and intensity of severe thunderstorms in the U.S. could increase as climate changes,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif.

Closer to home, the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst concludes that “meteorological autumn” (September through November) was the fourth warmest on record for the Northeast U.S. Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island saw their third warmest autumn, as did the U.S. overall (not including Alaska and Hawaii).

Four of the five warmest autumns over the Northeast have occurred in the last 11 years (2011, 2015, 2021, 2016).

This year, Boston had its warmest summer on record, and its year-to-date average temperature is on pace to be warmest ever recorded, the UMass report stated.

For overnight minimum temperatures, the Northeast experienced the highest average on record for June through November.

Reports from the Washington Post were included in the National Overview and Climate Update.

The Outlook is today's look ahead at the week's weather, its impact on the Berkshires and beyond. Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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