The rain and heat relented Saturday as people experienced what a typical winter day in the Triangle is supposed to feel like.
After a very wet and record warm December in Raleigh, temperatures will drop into the 20s on Monday and Tuesday. But before the cold front hits, people went outside Saturday to enjoy clear skies and high temperatures in the low 50s.
“It’s a great day to be outside,” said Tommy McLaurin of Raleigh, as he fed bread to sparrows near City Plaza in downtown Raleigh. “You’re not sweating. This is a perfect day.”
Just two days earlier, City Plaza on Fayetteville Street was packed with thousands of people who took advantage of the unusually warm weather to experience First Night festivities on New Year’s Eve.
The crowd was smaller in City Plaza on Saturday, but the ice skating rink had reopened Friday. It was closed for parts of December due to temperatures that hit 77 degrees on Christmas Eve and 74 degrees on Christmas.
The average temperature of 56.1 degrees in Raleigh was the highest ever recorded in December, according to National Weather Service statistics. Raleigh’s previous record of 53.4 degrees was set in 1889, two years after records were first kept.
In addition to last month’s heat, there was the rain. Fifteen of the 31 days in December were rainy, ending a year that brought more than 57 inches of precipitation – the seventh-highest amount on record for Raleigh, according to the National Weather Service.
Scott Sharp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, said the region’s warm and wet weather is typical of an El Niño winter.
El Niño occurs when tropical waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean are warmer than usual, a pattern that can last from several months to several years. The warmer ocean waters often produce more intense thunderstorms, which in turn can shift the track of the subtropical jet stream – an upper-level air current that plays a large role in the weather here.
Sharp said this is the strongest El Niño since 1998.
Into the 20s
The National Weather Service is forecasting Monday’s temperature in Raleigh to reach a high of 43 degrees and a low of 24 degrees. Tuesday is projected to have a high temperature of 38 degrees and a low of 21 degrees. Sharp said areas such as Louisburg could see temperatures fall into the teens Tuesday.
“I’m not looking forward to being in the 20s,” Betty Hinson of Cary said as she walked by the State Capitol on Saturday. “This is perfect. If it gets too much colder it won’t be.”
The temperature is forecast to climb back into the 50s on Thursday and Friday along with the chance for more rain. Sharp said with El Niño people should expect to see cycles this winter of temperatures dropping and then quickly rising again.
“We’ll see temperatures recover again, but will we see temperatures in the 70s (this winter)? Probably not,” Sharp said.
The hope that it will remain a warmer winter than normal is something that Jimmy Walker of Kernersville is holding on to. Walker, who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt Saturday, was in Raleigh to take his grandsons to the N.C. Museum of History and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
“I don’t want to affect the environment,” Walker said. “But I don’t like snow and ice. It can get dangerous on the roads.”