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Is Spring Still Exciting When You Haven't Had a Winter?

Tickers in this article: HD LOW TRIP

NEW YORK -- ( MainStreet) -- When you've already had a warm winter and are getting temperatures into the 70s and 80s in March, what's to anticipate about spring?

The start of the Major League Baseball season aside, this year's transition from winter to spring for the Northeast and much of the Midwest will be among the mildest in history. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, December through February was the fourth-warmest winter on record for the lower 48 states. The average temperature was 3.9 degrees above the average from 1901 to 2000 and the warmest since 2000.

Unusually mild winters that hurt ski slopes and may crush crops could boost sales and travel.

In Albany, N.Y., for example, the average high in January was 37 degrees, when it's usually below freezing, according to the National Weather Service. In Tulsa, Okla., the average high last month was about 57 degrees, 9 degrees higher than normal. The Upper Midwest, Great Plains and a few other areas were "much above normal" in temperature, NOAA said. None of that news amounts to anything good and could end up being really harmful to trees, shrubs and perennials, says Dr. Bert Cregg, an associate professor in the horticulture department at Michigan State University specializing in tree physiology and nursing landscape.

"We are definitely getting into some uncharted waters having this much accumulated heat this early in the season," Cregg says. "I was on the conference call with our head climatologist last week and we were breaking records left and right, so we really don't have anything to compare it to."

So where has winter been hiding out? Look in Northern Canada, Alaska, Russian and Europe, where the canals in Venice froze just before Carnival. The problem for much of North America this summer has been the jet stream's stubborn refusal to budge southward for any length of time. Normally a system of high pressure parks itself over Greenland and Northeast Canada for the better part of winter and forces cold Arctic air south.

With a weakened pressure system and strong La Nina winds from the West, large swaths of the U.S. has been kept high and dry. Not only is it warmer, but since cold fronts aren't colliding with warm fronts because of the jet stream's stubbornness, many regions haven't received the winter precipitation they're used to, leading to outright drought in Texas and other places.

In some ways, it's worth celebrating. Utility company Consumers Energy in Michigan says its natural gas customers are paying roughly 20% less in heating costs than during the same time last year. Ohio's Columbia Gas says a combination of decreased demand and increased supplies from Pennsylvania and Texas have dropped its rates by 24%.