PORTLAND, Maine – Golfers around southern Maine are sharing in what can only be called an unexpected Christmas present.
Several climate patterns have converged this year, making for an unusually mild November and December and extending the playing season deep into the calendar.
Normally, golf bags have been stowed in closets or garages long before December, with Saturday afternoons more wisely spent salting sidewalks or tuning up snowblowers.
But this past weekend, when temperatures reached 57 on Saturday and 47 on Sunday, the few courses that remained open in Maine were booked solid.
Dan Hourihan, owner of Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough, is glad to have them. More than 100 golfers came out each day to Nonesuch, giving his bottom line a late-season boost.
"We have had some years where we played into December and January, but what's different about this year is it's been so much warmer day to day," Hourihan said.
"It's similar to what we'd do on a nice day in October," he said. "It's crazy. It's great."
Nonesuch has traditionally remained open for as long as weather permits, usually until the first snow. It reopens as soon as the snow melts, with die-hards coming out in cold-weather gear to get a jump on the season.
Last year at this time, more than 19 inches of snow already had fallen. This year, the total in Portland remains a triumphant zero, according to the National Weather Service (sorry, skiers and snowboarders).
On Monday, despite overcast conditions that turned to a steadily thickening mist in the afternoon, about a half-dozen of the golfing faithful made it out to play a few holes.
One of them was Bob Small, a 71-year-old retiree who played his fifth round this month at Nonesuch. He estimates he played even more in November.
Small and his wife are packing in as much golf as they can now, before fleeing for Florida for most of January and February.
"With weather like this, it's not bad," Small said.
Jim Reilly, 60, squeezed in a quick nine holes Monday, after playing 18 holes two days before at Nonesuch, he said.
Although he and others had to wait for the frost to melt Saturday morning, he didn't mind.
"I call it bonus golf, when we're still playing in December," Reilly said.
Nonesuch isn't the only course reaping the benefits of an autumn that just won't quit.
Five of the nine courses run by Harris Golf – Old Marsh Country Club, Penobscot Valley Country Club, Mere Creek Golf Course, Falmouth Country Club and the Bath Golf Club – have remained open, said Ryan Atwood, general manager for Harris.
More than 100 golfers played each of those courses both days last weekend, Atwood said, logging about 1,000 rounds on the Harris courses.
"It definitely helps revenue, because overhead is way down, we have bare-minimum staff at all the courses," Atwood said. "It's a nice little Christmas present."
If early forecasts are correct, the trend could continue.
Weather service meteorologists say southern Maine has a roughly 70 percent chance of maintaining above-average temperatures through the end of the month. Through February, the chance of higher-than-average temperatures is estimated at roughly 40 percent.
Although this is an El Nino year, when the warming of water in the equatorial Pacific can affect global weather patterns, there are many other factors that can create warmer weather in the Northeast, said weather service meteorologist Nikki Becker.
"A lot of the storms are coming from the Pacific Northwest and coming to the center of the United States, and then heading south of us," Becker said. "So the storm track is basically completely different."
And because detailed records of El Nino date only to the 1950s, predicting what will happen is difficult.
"El Nino is only one factor of many, but it is the most well known," Becker said.
This article was written by Matt Byrne from Portland Press Herald, Maine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.