Georgia’s warm 2021 capped by a near-record hot December

Matt Tam rides along the Beltline with his dog, Olive, near the Edgewood neighborhood of Atlanta on Wednesday, December 22, 2021. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Matt Tam rides along the Beltline with his dog, Olive, near the Edgewood neighborhood of Atlanta on Wednesday, December 22, 2021. (Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But cold snap with possible snow or ice in weekend forecast

A warm 2021 for Georgia was capped by a scorching December, which came close to breaking the average temperature record for the month that was set less than a decade ago.

Last year was the 20th warmest on record for the state, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with temperatures statewide averaging 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

However, last month was the second-hottest December that Georgia has experienced in 127 years of record-keeping by NOAA, with temperatures statewide averaging a balmy 56.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a whopping 9.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for December.

Temperatures have been more seasonal so far in 2022, with a cold snap expected to arrive this weekend.

Still, the December warmth set off alarm bells in some corners of the state. On Georgia’s blueberry and peach farms, growers are concerned that the warmth could leave them vulnerable to damage from a late-season freeze, or that the lack of cold could prevent plants from growing healthy fruit.

ExploreHot December puts Georgia’s fruit growers on edge

The exceptionally warm conclusion to the year that Georgia had was not unexpected.

A La Niña pattern that developed last year is expected to continue into spring. La Niña is triggered by temperature conditions in the Pacific Ocean, but the phenomenon typically brings drier, warmer conditions to the southern half of the United States and wetter weather to the northern half. This is the second straight winter to feature La Niña, an occurrence that some meteorologists call a “double-dip.”

But scientists say the warmth the state felt last year also reflects the longer term effects of human-caused global warming.

Globally, 2021 was the fifth-warmest year and the last seven years have been the seven hottest years on record, according to data released this week from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, the European Union’s climate information authority. NOAA is expected to release its recap of global temperatures in 2021 later this week.

After falling sharply early in the pandemic, emissions of heat-trapping gases surged once again last year in the US by 6.2% compared to 2020, according to a new preliminary analysis by the data analytics firm the Rhodium Group.

“We are in a warmed climate and without action, I fear the trend will accelerate,” said Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. “I often tell people it is not the change that worries me. It is the rate of the change.”


THIS WEEKEND

Despite the overall warming trend, experts say Georgia can and will continue to see cold temperatures. And a dose of winter weather could come as soon as this weekend, with below-freezing temperatures and precipitation in the forecast.

Channel 2 Action News’ Brian Monahan said it’s too early to pinpoint exactly what locations will see snow or ice — and how much — but various models show parts of north Georgia could see accumulation. Here’s what the forecast shows for the region, including metro Atlanta:

  • Saturday
    • Rain is expected to arrive Saturday night and as temperatures drop overnight, some areas could see precipitation transition to sleet and/or snow.
  • Sunday
    • Very cold with lows in the 20s and highs in the low to mid-30s. A wintry mix in the morning could transition into snow later in the day, but this will vary by location.

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