Houstonians dreaming of a white — or even mildly cool — Christmas are going to be disappointed with this year’s projected high temperature of 84 degrees.
Houston is projected to have its hottest Christmas on record, beating out a previous high of 83 degrees in 2015, said Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. The low for this year is 66 degrees, which is one degree higher than last year’s high for Christmas day.
“We’ve been kind of joking in the office instead of leaving cookies for Santa this year, you want to leave him ice water and orange slices,” Fowler said.
David Houk, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, recommended leaving Santa a cold beer to help him beat the heat while delivering gifts in Houston.
He said the high temperature for Christmas day isn’t the only record the city is projected to break; Houk expects that Houston will have its hottest December on record this year — beating the previous record from the 1933 Dust Bowl era.
Houk said there’s multiple factors that have contributed to this year’s warm holiday season, one of which being La Nina, a weather phenomenon that occurs every two to seven years. La Nina leads to drier and warmer winter months, but Houk said this December has been extreme.
“With the number of 80 degree days we’ve had and warm nights, it’s been one where I’m sure the air conditioners have been on a lot more than they normally are in December,” he said.
Houk added that a combination of high pressure in the southern part of the U.S. with storm systems passing by in the northern part of the country leads to an increase in heat.
Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico have also played a role in the warmer weather this December. Jimmy Fowler with the National Weather Service said the surface temperatures in the Gulf are 6 to 7 degrees above normal for this time of year. Colder oceans absorb more heat — so the warmer the ocean, the less heat it absorbs from the air.
The warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico is also leading to more humidity. Fowler said the warmer ocean leads to higher dew point temperatures, which is what the National Weather Service uses to measure humidity. Warmer dew point temperatures leads to warmer nights, which leads to warmer days and more extreme temperatures.
Fowler said climate change has led to most of Texas — not just Houston — experiencing its hottest December on record, and added that the warming of global temperatures means this could be a continuing trend. Still, Fowler cautioned that even though temperatures are trending warmer, colder temperatures like last year’s winter storm aren’t out of the realm of possibility.
“The overall pattern, essentially sliding scale of the temperatures, are going further warmer,” he said. “So these warmer type of weather conditions will be more likely. That’s not to say that colder temperatures, or even extremely cold temperatures, will be impossible.”