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Melanie Baykal leaves a wake of water behind as she skates recently at Ice on the Landing. Baykal was first on the ice after while waiting for her flight departure to see family for Christmas in south Florida. "We haven't had to close for warm weather," Barry Cole said. "We closed for the rain, earlier. We shut down at 2 p.m., but reopened at 5:30 p.m.," he said. "We're doing really great, because the outdoor rink in Atlanta has shut down this week because of the warm weather. They're further south, a little warmer than here. But, they are outdoors and covered. That traps the heat in an they are having trouble staying frozen.

For those who thought it was strange they could wear a T-shirt outside during the holiday season because of unseasonably high temperatures, the bizarre weather is at an end and snow flurries may be rolling into the area as early as Sunday evening.

The National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., is reporting that December 2015 was the second warmest December on record, with an average temperature 11.6 degrees hotter than typical. Chattanooga hasn't seen numbers like that in the Christmas season since 1889.

But, according to WRCB chief meterologist Paul Barys, area residents should expect more normal winter temperatures.

Some of that can be attributed to changes in the El Niño system off the Pacific Coast of South and Central America. That and temperature changes in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic are allowing for the colder, drier weather Chattanoogans can expect through January and February.

Barys said that the East Coast has been unusually warm while the West Coast has been cool because, "the ocean has tremendous, tremendous effects on temperature."

"The pattern is shifting right now. The eastern half of the country is going to be way colder than December," he said.

Whether those cold temperatures will lead to snow in January or February remains to be seen, but Barys said it is possible.

Jessica Winton, a metereologist at the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tenn., echoed Barys' assessment. She said, "a lot of our rain came from a pattern from the Southwest that brought humidity and moisture up from the Gulf."

The El Niño weather pattern prevented cold air from coming in from the north, but now Winton expects temperatures for January to average out to normal levels. February might even be somewhat colder than usual, she said.

News of colder, drier weather couldn't come any sooner for some local businesses whose operations were impacted by the abnormal winter weather.

The Tennessee Aquarium had to cancel the first three days of its Sandhill Crane Cruises in the new year because of high water levels that forced the closure of the Chickamauga lock. The closed lock blocked six trips to the Hiwassee refuge where the migratory birds are found, forcing hundreds of customers to either rebook or collect a refund.

Tennessee Aquarium spokesman Thom Benson said the lock re-opened Thursday morning and trips resumed as scheduled that day.

Carla Pritchard, the owner of Chattanooga Presents, also looked at the unusual weather with some concern for Ice On the Landing, a temporary ice rink that her company put up on the riverfront for the second year in a row. After a Christmas spell of downpours and 70-degree weather, Pritchard was happy to say, "We were actually not that affected, [for] which we were grateful."

The ice rink was slightly more wet than it would have been ordinarily, she said.

"If you fell, you may get up a little bit wetter than you would have otherwise, but the ice was fine to skate on," Pritchard said.

Unlike ice rinks in other cities like Knoxville and Atlanta, the ice at the Chattanooga rink never got so bad that the rink had to be shut down. Pritchard credited that to the work of the staff, specifically assistant manager Bill Matthews, who she said stayed in a hotel next door to the rink one night in order to "babysit" and repair slight damage to the ice from rain.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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