December thaw is bad news for winter lovers, good news for everyone else

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Bad News for Winter Lovers

By Nick Wiltgen, The Weather Channel

After several rounds of arctic chill this fall, most of the country will enjoy a long spell of warmer-than-average weather over the next week or two -- just as meteorological winter has begun.

(MORE: November 2014 Shattered Cold, Snow Records)

A jet stream pattern that has encouraged cold air masses from near the Arctic Circle to rush southward into the U.S. will change over the next several days, allowing much milder air from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to become the dominant influences on temperatures nationwide.

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Computer forecast models are in strong agreement that this will allow unseasonably warm weather to take over a large part of the Lower 48 later this week and on into next week.

(MORE: National 10-Day Forecast Maps)

This means temperatures will stay well above freezing, day and night, across much of the Deep South this week and probably next week as well.

Meanwhile, subzero lows and single-digit highs in the north-central states should give way to high temperatures at or above freezing at times, allowing some of the snowpack to melt. In areas where snow cover melts completely, temperatures could surge even higher, as snow cover has a refrigerating effect. Snowpack prevents sunlight from warming the ground underneath and reflects more sunlight directly back to outer space, making it more difficult to get the air near the ground to warm up.

Based on current forecasts, the warming trend will be more obvious at night than during the day; by this weekend, high temperatures will be at or slightly above average for most of the country, but low temperatures will be 10 to 20 degrees above average across a huge swath of the West, the Plains, and the Southeast.

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Crazy wintery snow from fall 2014
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December thaw is bad news for winter lovers, good news for everyone else
A tree in Middleton, Idaho. So many of our trees look like this! Today, more dense fog and freezing temps. High of 27. Yellow air quality. Photo: @KTVBChar We're on the air now! Join us on @ktvb7
Snow covers a street at daybreak Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, in south Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo-area officials are getting help from a neighboring county in their efforts to clear roads and provide emergency services during the snowstorm that has buried sections of western New York in more than 5 feet of snow. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)
Pumpkins sit on porch covered in light snow in Denver early on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. A powerful storm made up of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri moved into the intermountain West on Monday and has settled across the central part of the country, plunging temperatures below zero in some locations and dropping a light snow that has snarled traffic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
John Smigel places an American flag next to the headstone of U.S. Army MSGT Robert W. Raiser who served in World War II at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Sheridan, Colo., on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. A powerful storm made up of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri has moved into the intermountain West, packing high winds and light snows for the region's residents to contend with during the work week. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A jogger steps carefully across snow-covered street Wednesday morning Nov. 12, 2014 in Denver. A powerful storm made up of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri moved into the intermountain West on Monday and has settled across the central part of the country, plunging temperatures below zero in some locations and dropping a light snow that has snarled traffic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Cole Baldock works to clear snow , Wednesday morning, Nov. 12, 2014, in Denver. A powerful storm made up of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri moved into the intermountain West on Monday and has settled across the central part of the country, plunging temperatures below zero in some locations and dropping a light snow that has snarled traffic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
An unidentified man surveys the aftermath of an accident caused by slick roads on Interstate 84 near Bridal Veil, Ore., Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. While earlier snow forecasts for the Portland-Vancouver area didn't appear, heavy winds combined with sleet and snow slowed traffic through the Columbia River Gorge.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Snow covers roses as traffic moves by along Speer Boulevard as snow falls Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, in Denver. A powerful storm made up of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri moved into the intermountain West on Monday and has settled across the central part of the country, plunging temperatures below zero in some locations and dropping a light snow that has snarled traffic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A high school graduation photo of Michael Brown sits on top of a snow-covered memorial Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, more than three months after the black teen was shot and killed by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting sparked weeks of violent protests and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declaring a state of emergency today as a grand jury deliberates on whether to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A band of storm clouds moves across Lake Erie and into Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014. Parts of New York measured the season's first big snowfall in feet, rather than inches, on Tuesday as 3 feet of lake-effect snow blanketed the Buffalo area and forced the closure of a 132-mile stretch of the state Thruway. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
As icy cold Canadian air settled over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. bringing snow and bitter cold, NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this infrared view of what looks like a frozen blanket over the region. NOAA's GOES-East satellite provides visible and infrared images over the eastern U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean from its fixed orbit in space. In an infrared image taken on Nov. 18 at 12:30 UTC (7:30 a.m. EST), the cold air over the eastern and central U.S. appears to look like a blanket of white, but it's not all snow. Infrared data shows temperature, so although the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. appears to appear is if snow covers the ground, the blanket is in fact cold clouds. However, snow does lie under that blanket in the Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and Canada, where it will continue in those areas through Thursday, Nov. 20. To create the image, NASA/NOAA's GOES Project takes the cloud data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite and overlays it on a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. Together, those data created the entire picture of the storm and show its movement. After the storm system passes, the snow on the ground becomes visible. GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. Geostationary describes an orbit in which a satellite is always in the same position with respect to the rotating Earth. This allows GOES to hover continuously over one position on Earth's surface, appearing stationary. As a result, GOES provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms and hurricanes. Image credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters
The scene from Transit Road, a NYSEG truck among those stuck in the #LakeEffect http://t.co/BCCGWcYChp
View of the wall of snow clouds coming into Buffalo http://t.co/rWuNL4OGEq
There is a wall of snow coming off the lake into #Buffalo. Hold your loved ones. #Snow #Weather @WKBW http://t.co/Z28bkOUb9D
Hey @JimCantore my wife is 5'7" I'd say we're at 4 feet in Lancaster, NY and still coming! http://t.co/7iUDaRpfTg
The scene from Transit Road, a NYSEG truck among those stuck in the #LakeEffect http://t.co/BCCGWcYChp
This snow doesn't scare me... 😎
NOAA's automated snow mapping system shows the snow cover across North America on November 18, 2014. 
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Perspective: Cold Spells Dominate 2014

While 2014 has certainly had its warm days, they have tended to be the exception rather than the rule in much of the central and eastern U.S.

In fact, temperatures have been below average for the year to date across most of the country east of the Rockies. Temperatures have been farthest below average in a swath encompassing the entire Mississippi River Valley and much of the Great Lakes. In these areas, temperatures were 2 to 4 degrees below the historical average for the first 11 months of the year, according to data from the High Plains Regional Climate Center.

It's been the eighth-coldest year to date on record in Illinois, based on NOAA climate analysis for January through October. Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Arkansas are also having one of their 12 coldest years of the past 120. (State-by-state data through November will be released in mid-December.)

For cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, even a December with just average temperatures would result in 2014 being the coolest calendar year since 1996.

The pattern is well represented in the number of record highs and lows so far this year. Through Nov. 30, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center says there have been 33,013 record high temperatures in the Lower 48 this year -- but also 47,402 record lows. For just the month of November, there were more than four times as many record lows (8,977) as record highs (2,022).

One part of the country, however, has been consistently warm. California, Nevada and Arizona are experiencing their warmest year to date on record.

And the warm weather isn't going away there, either -- even though sometimes big pattern changes take weather away from one region and move it somewhere else, the Southwest will hold on to its warmth this time even as the rest of the country shakes off the frosty conditions.

The shift to a warmer regime just puts the central and eastern U.S. where most of the rest of the planet has been all year; 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record worldwide.

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December thaw is bad news for winter lovers, good news for everyone else
People walk through the Boston Public Garden as snow falls, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009 in Boston. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
Dockworker Dominic Giovinco, of Gloucester, Mass., unloads cod from the fishing boat Lady Jane, in the background, at the Jodrey State Fish Pier in Gloucester, Mass., Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 as a blast of arctic air chills the Northeast. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
A woman in short sleeves runs past a giant snow ball on Boston Common on an unseasonably warm afternoon in Boston, Wednesday Feb. 11, 2009. Temperatures in the Boston area reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the afternoon. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Ice sculptor Andy Campbell, of Boston, left, uses a blade to shape blocks of ice into a sculpture meant to resemble Michelangelo's David on the Boston Common, in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. Temperatures in the teens and gusty winds swept through the Boston area Tuesday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Snow accumulates on apple trees on a farm in North Andover, Mass. Monday, March 9, 2009. Slushy snow showers expected to blanket the Boston area with 2 to 4 inches of snow has ended the area's flirtation with spring, at least for now. Areas north and west of Boston may see 4 to 8 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
A man riding a snow blower clears the street in front of his house in North Andover, Mass. Monday, March 9, 2009. Slushy snow showers expected to blanket the Boston area with 2 to 4 inches of snow has ended the area's flirtation with spring, at least for now. Areas north and west of Boston may see 4 to 8 inches of snow. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Snow-covered cars are lined up along Castleton Street, Monday, Jan. 19, 2009 following a winter storm in Boston. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
People work to free a car stuck on the unplowed 56th street in the Boro Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn Borough of New York, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A snow plow clears a street in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 -- four days after a blizzard that hit the northeast. (AP Photo/Chris Hawley)
Sledders slide down a hill during the winter weather at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, N.Y., Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
A sledder slides down a hill during the winter weather at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, N.Y., Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Felipe Springhoffs, right, helps Joel Schaffer move his car after it got stuck on an unplowed street in the Boro Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn Borough of New York, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A couple of wild turkeys walk through the snow on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Barre, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
While most residents had cleared yards and sidewalks, many streets remained unplowed in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A pair of horses graze in a snow-covered pasture on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010, in Barre, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
A few people walk along the snow covered Boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. A treacherous storm brought high winds, heavy snow and limited visibility to the area creating havoc for commuters and travellers. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
A man with a shovel walks past a large snow pile in Boston, Monday, Dec. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
In this Jan. 10, 2104 photo, a large chunk of ice sits in a whirlpool, where the faster moving water still flows below several feet of ice, at the base of the United States side of Niagara Falls in New York. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)
This image captured by NOAA's GOES-East satellite on Jan. 6, 2014, at 11:01 a.m. EST shows a frontal system that is draped from north to south along the U.S. East Coast. Behind the front lies the clearer skies bitter cold air associated with the polar vortex. Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the "polar vortex" by the time it spread across the country on Tuesday, Jan. 7. 2013. (AP Photo/NASA)
REMOVES THE REFERENCE TO BING FROZEN SOLID - The U.S. side of Niagara Falls has begun to thaw after being partially frozen from the recent "polar vortex" that affected millions in the U.S. and Canada, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., as seen from the Canadian side of the falls. Niagara Falls hasn't frozen over, but it has become an icy spectacle, thanks to a blast of arctic wind and cold that blew around and froze the mist on surfaces and landscaping. Despite the urban legends, Niagara Falls doesn't freeze solid in the winter, tourism officials say. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)
Toronto, Canada. 22nd Dec, 2013. Trees fell across Toronto damaging power lines and cars. Freezing rain clung to every surface across the Greater Toronto Area, felling trees and power lines. © Victor Biro/Alamy Live News
Toronto, Canada. 22nd Dec, 2013. Large trees fell across Toronto under the weight of the ice that coated them. Multiple Freezing rain clung to every surface across the Greater Toronto Area, felling trees and power lines. © Victor Biro/Alamy Live News
Toronto, Canada. 22nd Dec, 2013. Large trees fell across Toronto under the weight of the ice that coated them. Multiple Freezing rain clung to every surface across the Greater Toronto Area, felling trees and power lines. © Victor Biro/Alamy Live News
Toronto, Canada-February 5, 2013: The city has declare an extreme cold alert..Heavy snow fall causes drivers many problems. Comm
Toronto, Canada-February 5, 2013: The city has declare an extreme cold alert..Heavy snow fall causes drivers many problems. Comm
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. 21 December 2013. On the first official day of winter, an Arctic high pressure system causes extremely cold temperatures of below -25C in Saskatoon and other parts of Western Canada. © Felix Choo/Alamy Live News
Unseasonably cold weather freezes Toronto Harbor solid, creating a reflective skyline seen in sheets of ice atop Lake Ontario
Chicago, USA. 21st January 2014. Lake Michigan waves toss chunks of ice into the air at snowy North Avenue Beach after the latest lake effect snowstorm. The polar vortex has returned with frigid temperatures. © Todd Bannor/Alamy Live News
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