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Winter is back — but not with a vengeance

It looked and felt more like late March or early April this past week, with a mini-mud season and daily pea-soup fogs worthy of a classic London thriller.

Apart from a few brief glimpses, the sun was last seen over Berkshire County just before it set last Tuesday. “Gloomy, drab, dreary, depressing. . .we’re running out of ways to describe the persistently cloudy conditions,” the National Weather Service in Albany tweeted on Sunday morning. “With any luck, the sun will return Monday.”

Temperatures for the month scored a whopping 5.5 degrees above normal at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, with only nine days at or slightly below average and two 80-year records set — 61 degrees on Dec. 11 and 63 on Dec. 16. Heating costs, as measured by deviations from average daily temperatures, were nearly 16 percent below normal.

In Great Barrington, where weather observer Nick Diller has compiled 58 years of data, December was the second warmest, with 2015 still holding the record.

This week, along with the sun, winter is making a comeback following the passage of an Arctic cold front on Sunday that sent temperatures skidding from early morning highs in the mid-40s to a predicted pre-dawn low around 20 on Monday. Bundle up!

The cold snap won’t last long, and the rest of the week shapes up as fairly dry and mostly tranquil, with temperatures moderating. The historical average for the week ranges from 15 to 30 and by Wednesday, we should be back above normal, though only slightly.

Snowfall for the season so far comes to a paltry 12.7 inches — most of it on Nov. 26, when 8 inches was measured at the Pittsfield airport. The normal amount for mid-October through December is 24 inches.

Any snow this week? The wild card is for Thursday night into Friday, with AccuWeather.com predicting nearly 4 inches from a moderate-impact storm originating over the Great Lakes and Quebec on Wednesday.

That system is expected to spawn a coastal cousin Thursday night, resulting in outcomes “ranging from a widespread accumulating snow (possibly heavy) into Friday, to an offshore storm whose impacts will miss us,” according to forecaster Dan Thompson at the National Weather Service in Albany.

By next weekend, with any potential storm off the radar, below-normal temperatures revisit the Berkshires, while it remains mainly dry.

The Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for Jan. 9-15 calls for slightly below normal temperatures and precipitation in western New England.

YEAR IN REVIEW

Time to close the books on 2021, a year that set a possible record with 59 inches of rain and melted snow estimated at the Pittsfield airport. That’s not official, because the automated weather station there was offline for three days in mid-July following an intense thunderstorm. Weather observers around the county measured at least 3 inches of rain during that blackout period.

The only years that come close, with just over 55 inches, were in 2008 and 2011, according to the database at the government’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Records there go back to 1938, but some years are missing, so it’s best to assume that 2021 was one of the wettest years in Berkshire County, if not the wettest.

Temperatures were also well above normal for the year — eight months (all except February, May, July and November) was warmer than average. Again, with data missing from some years, we can’t be sure that it was record-setting, but it’s safe to say that 2021 was among the warmest years since the U.S. Weather Bureau, as it was then known, began compiling observations at the Pittsfield Airport in 1938.

NATIONAL OVERVIEW

More snow will spread into the northern Sierra and Northern Rockies on Monday, with 6 to 12 inches likely.

An arctic air mass will sweep into the north-central U.S., leading to potential snow for inland portions of the Northeast late in the week.

The Great Lakes storm system is expected to cause widespread light to moderate snow across Michigan and Wisconsin early this week, but winds may be strong enough in some places to produce blizzard conditions.

Heavy coastal rain and mountain snow will continue to make weather headlines in parts of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies.

Temperatures are expected to be frigid from the central and northern Plains to the Upper Midwest through the end of the week, with seasonably cold conditions west of the Continental Divide.

In Florida, sun will be plentiful through the week, with daytime highs from 70 to near 80 north to south.

CLIMATE UPDATE

Highlights from a new climate study published in the journal Nature and other recent reports:

— New England is warming significantly faster than the global average, and that rate is expected to accelerate as more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere and dangerous warming trends fuel climate change. A temperature data analysis going back more than a century documents shorter winters and longer summers, jeopardizing much of the region’s unique ecology, economy and cultural heritage.

— In 2021, the Boston metro area had its warmest year on record since 1900, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

— With the region’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, coastal waters will become increasingly inhospitable to cod and lobster; less maple syrup and other agricultural products will be produced; and there will be fewer opportunities for skiing and other winter recreation.

— While the region’s temperatures have been rising in every season, the most notable increases have been for the coldest stretch of winter. “Our climate is fundamentally altered from what older generations would recall,” said Michael Rawlins, associate director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The June heat wave — the longest in nearly a century—and the wettest July in Massachusetts history were hard to miss.

Footnotes: On the day after Christmas, it was 67 on Kodiak Island in Alaska, setting a statewide temperature record for December. The state is generally warming faster than the rest of the United States and already suffers from flooding, erosion and other signs of a changing climate. The average temperature for the lower 48 states on Christmas Day was the third warmest since 1900.

Material from the Boston Globe and The New York Times was included in the 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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