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Southwest Michigan's warm winter weather is likely to set a record

A dark haired girl holding a white plastic bag, wearing shorts, a zipped up brown hoodie and white sneakers walks down the stairs in front of the Thomas & Mary Stewart clock tower at Western Michigan University.  Part of the stairs are closed. The white sign with red letter reads "closed for winter."
Leona Larson
Shorts and "closed for winter" signs have recently appeared side-by-side at Western Michigan University, as in this picture from March 4, 2024.

This year's meteorological winter (December through February) is likely one of the two or three warmest on record for the region, according to the National Weather Service.

It’s crunch time at the National Weather Service office in Grand Rapids. Staff are compiling daily temperature data from Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and the rest of West Michigan.

Meteorologist Cort Scholten says this winter is competing to be one of the warmest on record.

“What we think right now is this winter is at least in the top three warmest, possibly the top two warmest in the last 125 years.”

Scholten says the return of the El Niño weather pattern likely warmed things up. But climate change played a role too.

“I would say there's elements of both going on. And since the atmosphere is a complicated thing, it usually doesn't come down to just to just one suspect. It's usually a combination of multiple factors that will affect our winter in West Michigan.”

Scholten says another branch of NOAA will make the final call on just how warm this winter was. He expects the findings in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Scholten confirmed that when the temperature at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport reached 74 degrees on February 27, it was the warmest winter temperature ever recorded in Kalamazoo.

The warm weather closed the ice rink at Millennium Park in Portage a week earlier than planned. In Kalamazoo, the Department of Parks and Recreation had to cancel two winter events because of warm weather.

The Maple Sugar Festival at the Kalamazoo Nature Center is Saturday. (Disclosure: WMUK-FM is one of the sponsors.) Ryan Koziatek, the KNC’s stewardship director, said warming winters have been a factor in scheduling the annual event.

“In the past, we have held that one to two weeks later, usually. And a few years ago, in response to changing climate, we knew that the sugaring season, or when you gather sap to then make syrup, was going to be ending a lot sooner.”

Koziatek said for a peak maple sugaring experience, the event could have been moved even earlier this year.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.