Kathy Willens / AP

Record high temperatures in Northeast on Christmas Eve

Forecasters said El Nino is driving warm air eastward and keeping cold air from the Arctic at bay

Northerners accustomed to cozying up to a roaring Yuletide fire in a bulky sweater with a mug of hot chocolate may have to open the windows come Christmas.

Record-shattering temperatures in the 60s and 70s settled over the Northeast on Christmas Eve, allowing many people to trade gloves and scarves for shorts and T-shirts and go jogging and golfing instead of skiing. Some announced plans to grill steaks in the backyard instead of putting a Christmas ham in the oven.

Depending on whom you ask, the weather outside was either frightful or delightful.

Not even overcast skies in Philadelphia on Thursday could dampen Michael Craven's spirits. Walking home after running errands in shorts and a T-shirt, he exclaimed with a huge grin: "It's beautiful out!"

"I'm ecstatic. I am not a fan of winter," he said. The Christmas spirit "is the people, not whether it's cold or not. I think people are in better spirits because it's warm out. They're on the streets. You're still able to eat outside at some of the restaurants."

While the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest have been getting heavy rain and snow, and the South has been hit by deadly tornadoes, much of the East Coast is in for balmy, springlike weather over the next few days.

Forecasters said El Nino, the warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator, is driving warm air eastward and keeping cold air from the Arctic at bay.

Meteorologists said some Christmas Eve records could be broken by as much as 10 degrees.

"That's one thing about the temperature especially today - a lot of places will blow away their previous record highs," said Bob Oravec, a National Weather Service forecaster in College Park, Maryland.

Without the usual winter wonderland, some people clung to tradition to get in the mood.

Dozens skated at the ice rink in Cincinnati's Fountain Square, where the temperature was in the 50s. Many of them were part of the annual Mechley family Christmas Eve morning gathering.

"Ironically, it's the first year we had rented the warming hut," said Camille Gartner, who was part of the group, expected to reach up to 80 people spanning four generations.

Fran Convery of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, tried to look the part, wearing red plaid shorts and a red pullover, but gave a bah-humbug scowl when asked about the weather. He was in Philadelphia with his family for a holiday tradition: looking at the decorations and having lunch at the Reading Terminal Market.

"I'd rather it be cold. I'd rather have snow on Christmas," he said. "This past week and the days leading up to it did not feel like Christmas with the warm weather. But when we start doing this stuff, it does."

In Warwick, Rhode Island, Stephen Malloney took advantage of the warm weather - the temperature hit a record of at least 65 in Providence - by playing a round of golf.

"Once I looked at the forecast, I packed my clubs," said Malloney, who was in town from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, visiting family.

In New York City, the mercury hit 71 by 11 a.m. in Central Park, smashing the record of 63 degrees, set in 1996, and was expected to reach 74. The average temperature in December is just under 39 degrees. Dozens of people in shorts and tank tops went running in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

"It's kind of like this is our little gift for the last two winters," said Carlie Buccola at the National Weather Service in Upton, New York.

The Associated Press

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