If President Obama’s message of “hope and change” applies to the economy, Christmas may have arrived a few days early…
In a revision of previous estimates, the Commerce Department said Friday that the U.S. economy grew at a solid 4.1 percent annual rate in the 3rd quarter. That’s the fastest pace of growth in nearly two years.
80 percent of the expansion was credited to increased consumer spending, but other data also bode well for the economy. Factories increased output in November for the 4th straight month, led by a surge in auto production. Despite higher interest rates, builders broke ground on the most new homes last month in more than five years, and the stock market continues to post new record highs.
The economic outlook appears to be so bright that the Federal Reserve announced this week that it will begin reducing its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases in January.
Even long range weather forecasts appear to be changing for much of America, but not in the tinderbox formerly known as California.
Residents of California endured another round of wildfires this week.
The latest fire tore through dry vegetation in the scenic Big Sur region south of San Francisco.
Sheriff Scott Miller, Monterey County, CA Sheriff's Department: "It's probably the driest year like many other parts of the state that we have in the history of Monterey County. Big Sur is historically one of the wettest places in California and we've had virtually no rain here all year, all season.”
This is an unusually late season blaze. But factoring in the weather pattern this season, it is not.
Lynn Olson, Public Information Officer, U.S. Forest Service: "Usually it's wetter by this time of year but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain. We have some other conditions such as sudden oak death in this part of the forest. The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."
The battle to contain the flames is being fought in the air and on the ground by nearly 900 firefighters. About 100 residents have been forced to evacuate their homes.
The fire has burned through more than a square mile in the Los Padres National Forest.
Late this week though, a change in weather patterns brought less wind and a chance of rain.
And in many other parts of the country, residents are looking for a change to the early start to winter.
An early autumn blizzard over the western plains brought as much as four feet of snow to some parts of the Dakotas.
Just last week a frigid cold snap took a bite out of the Great Plains. Temperatures dipped below zero in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and wind chill values fell to 25 to 35 below.
While winter doesn’t officially arrive until Saturday, Duluth, Minnesota has already experienced its six-largest snowfall in recorded history and its coldest six-day period since 1958.
But, a breakdown of the Northern Pacific System, which triggered the early arrival of winter, may be on the way according to USDA’s meteorologist Brad Rippey.
Brad Rippey USDA Meteorologist: “That will lead to the jet stream returning to a more normal position across the United States and lead to warming conditions and return to above normal temperatures across the southern half of the United States.”
But the change comes at a cost. The warmer and drier air will allow the drought over large portions of the west to continue.
Brad Rippey USDA Meteorologist: “And so long as the jet stream continues to by-pass both to the north and the south of these areas, unfortunately it looks like a potential third year of drought may come to fruition here for these areas from California to Texas.”
Some locations, however, will likely see regular to above normal precipitation. Or a continuation of what they’ve seen already in the mid-Atlantic.
Brad Rippey USDA Meteorologist: “The greatest likelihood for continuation of stormy conditions will be through this northern tier of the country stretching from perhaps the northern Rockies, the northern Great Plains on through the Great Lakes region and out through the Northeast.”