It's December, and people can wear shorts outside. With temperatures in the 70s, the country seems to be experiencing an unusually warm winter.
According to Josh Johnson, chief meteorologist for WSFA, these higher temperatures are a result of an El Niño winter.
Johnson said during an El Niño winter the continental United States receives pacific air, which originates over the Pacific Ocean.
"Typically in El Niño winters, the December is unusually warm, which this one certainly has been, and [El Niño winters are] a little wetter than this one has been so far," Johnson said.
Johnson said he expects it to be wetter in the next week, with lower temperatures near Christmas.
With well-above-normal temperatures in December, Johnson said he anticipates traditional winter temperatures in January and February.
Johnson said people move to Alabama for warmer winters, and usually they're always warm compared to the rest of the U.S. However, he said the last few have been colder than normal with snow and ice.
This is not the first time Alabama has had a warm December, according to Johnson.
"We'll have them again,"Johnson said. "They're more likely during this El Niño phase that we're in. All El Niño really is, it's a warmer than normal water over the Pacific Ocean ... and that in turn leads to some global circulation changes that end up having a somewhat predictable effect on our weather."
Johnson said El Niño winters occur approximately two or three times per decade.
The opposite effect, La Niña, is the cooling of water in the tropical, equatorial Pacific Ocean, according to Johnson.
"It's either neutral or one of those two," Johnson said.
It's important to realize that when meteorologists are forecasting the weather, they are looking at continents and globes, Johnson said.
"Alabama is a pretty small piece of that pie," Johnson said.
It's not unusual for Alabama to have a cooler December, while the rest of the country is having a warmer one, according to Johnson.
"But in this case, because it's an El Niño-driven event, the entire country, particularly the eastern two-thirds of the country, is warmer than normal," Johnson said. "This is not a kind of small-scale thing. This is a big-scale thing that's affecting the whole country."
Johnson said the average high this month has been 66 degrees, which is above normal. When combining the highs and lows, the average temperature in Montgomery has been 54 degrees. He said this is 3 degrees above normal, which is substantial.
Johnson said he predicts January and February to be below normal months with lower temperatures.
Depending on how long this El Niño winter lasts, Johnson said temperatures next December should be less warm, but he said it is hard to predict one year in advance.
Typically El Niño winters last 6-9 months, according to Johnson.
Johnson said severe storms and tornadoes can happen during warm Decembers, so he encourages people to be aware of the weather.
With Christmas approximately one week away, Sarah Ahern, sophomore in nursing, said it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.
"When it's 70, it doesn't really feel like December," Ahern said.
A Florida native, Ahern said she left Florida because she wanted cooler weather, not warmer.
"It's just very bipolar," Ahern said. "It goes back and forth."
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