Birds were singing. Insects were buzzing. And a large skunk suddenly appeared in the road in front of meteorologist Paul Pastelok as he drove to work in rural Pennsylvania.
Pastelok missed the skunk, but the close encounter this week was a reminder of how freakishly warm the winter has been from the Plains to the East Coast, and how the higher temperatures have upended everything from wildlife to resorts whose life cycles are dictated by snow.
In New York City, where "unseasonably mild" and "balmy" have been the forecasts of late, temperatures this week have been at least 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the usual average high of 39, a pattern seen across much of the eastern half of the country.
In Wichita, Kan., where the average high temperature last month was 37, about 6 degrees above normal, it hit 56 on Friday. Washington topped out at 53. In Chicago, where the average January day is 29.5 degrees, it was 39.
"A measly 19 percent" of the country was covered in snow on Thursday, according to Weather.com.
New York City, which last year was staggering beneath 36 inches of snow by Feb. 1, has seen just 4 inches fall so far this winter, and the remnants of the last storm melted away long ago.
"It's mild," said Pastelok, a meteorologist from AccuWeather, in one of the bigger understatements of the season.
"The departures have been way above normal this season, maybe in a top five or top 10 category," he said when asked to rank how unusual the winter from the Plains eastward had been in terms of temperatures and lack of snow.
The situation has perplexed forecasters. This year has been unique because even when there have been cold snaps, they have been extremely brief and followed by long, mild stretches.
Even with February ushering in cooler temps — but still above the norm — Pastelok said there were no signs of change on the way. "If you don't like cold, it'll be a pattern you like," he said.