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A blizzard warning in Hawaii but no snow yet in Denver, in unusual December weather

A snow-free Denver, pictured on Friday. The previous record for the city's latest ever first snowfall was Nov. 21, recorded in 1934.
Thomas Peipert
A snow-free Denver, pictured on Friday. The previous record for the city's latest ever first snowfall was Nov. 21, recorded in 1934.

Across the U.S., the weather is simply weird: The highest peaks of Hawaii spent the weekend under a blizzard warning, while record rainfall drenched the Pacific Northwest, unseasonably warm temperatures stretched across the Midwest and South, and a major snow drought in the Rockies means Denver has still not seen its first snowfall of the season.

The blizzard warning in Hawaii was first issued Thursday and remains in effect until early Sunday. Chances of snow were expected to peak Saturday afternoon then again Monday, according to a forecast by the Mauna Kea Weather Center.

The warning was prompted by the development of a large storm system off the coast of Hawaii, which has since stalled over the Big Island, "allowing extensive fog, ice and snow to plague the summit," the weather center wrote.

It's not unusual to see snow on Hawaii's tallest peaks, which rise more than 13,000 feet in elevation. A blizzard warning was last issued in the state in 2018.

But it is notable for the Pacific island state to see a blizzard warning before most of the continental U.S., according to the National Weather Service.

The only other places to see blizzard warnings so far this year are Alaska and the high plains of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, along with a small sliver of western Minnesota.

Meanwhile, unusually warm weather made the first few days of December feel more like October or even September in many places — with temperatures topping 80 degrees in parts of Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and North Carolina, and cresting 90 in southern Texas.

According to The Associated Press, 65 weather stations across the country set record high temperatures on Dec. 2.

Warm temperatures in combination with drought conditions mean snowpack is far below normal in the Rockies and California, where the northern Sierras have accumulated just 11% of a normal year's snowpack so far, according to the state's Department of Water Resources.

And in Denver, it has yet to snow at all this season.

"Denver has smashed the record for the latest first measurable snow this winter season," wrote the weather forecast office based in Boulder. The previous latest date of Nov. 21 was recorded in 1934.

As the Rockies face drought, the Pacific Northwest has been pummeled by much more rain than normal. In Bellingham, Wash., the 31-year-old record for most rainfall in meteorological fall (Sept. 1 through Nov. 30) was obliterated by more than 6 inches, a 37% increase. With the rain comes heightened risk of mudslides.

This weekend, winter will finally come for the far upper Midwest: a winter storm is expected to bring heavy snow to much of North Dakota, northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Part of the reason for the weather weirdness has to do with La Niña, a Pacific Ocean climate pattern that happens every few years. La Niña usually makes winters in the northern U.S. and Canada colder and wetter, while making it drier and warmer in the southern U.S.

And though scientists generally don't link any specific weather event to climate change, climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent and severe.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.