CHICAGO Commuters left coats at home and golfers, sun-bathers and farmers ventured out into spring-like temperatures across the nation's midsection on Wednesday, with meteorologists predicting the balmy weather would last into next week.
High temperature records have been shattered this week from Florida to the U.S.-Canada border, with the variance from normal highs most pronounced in the Northern Plains, where recent temperatures in the 60s were as much as 30 degrees above normal.
Chicago commuters on Wednesday rode in shirt sleeves, golfers hauled their clubs to courses in Minneapolis, and farmers began preparing thawed-out fields.
The unusually warm air east of the Rocky Mountains was courtesy of a high-pressure system trapping cold air further north, meteorologists said.
"We have a lot of warm, moist air from the southwest pulling into our area, causing this pleasant weather," Chicago-area National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said.
On Tuesday, the mercury hit a record for the date of 81 degrees in Omaha, Nebraska; 82 degrees in Springfield, Missouri; 81 degrees in Sioux City, Iowa; 67 degrees in Minneapolis; 59 degrees in Grand Forks, North Dakota; and 71 degrees in Concord, New Hampshire. More records could fall on Wednesday.
A cold front arriving in Chicago on Thursday will briefly shift winds from the northeast, bringing in cold air off Lake Michigan and causing temperatures to drop near the lake. Parts of New England will experience a similar shift with cooling winds off the Atlantic Ocean.
But temperatures in the Midwest will climb back into the 70s over the weekend, and stay there through at least the middle of next week, with a chance of rain most days, Seeley said.
Along with the early blooms of crocuses in gardens across the nation's midsection, the cherry blossoms on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., were predicted to bloom next week, a couple of weeks earlier than normal.
The same was true for farm crops and orchards, said meteorologist Joel Burgio of Telvent DTN.
"This warm weather will advance crops beyond where they normally are," Burgio said.
Wheat in the South was greening and developing ahead of normal, Burgio said. Fruit trees are blooming early in the southeast, and Midwest farmers will be lured into starting spring field work earlier than usual.
"The concern is that if a sudden change to colder weather comes after this very warm interlude, then you could have some crop problems," he said.
(Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Paul Thomasch)