Amid record-breaking high winter temperatures in Raleigh, outdoor spaces on campus hum with students studying in the grass, listening to live music, laying in hammocks and engaging in other outdoor activities. Students said the warm winter weather has improved their mood, although some note concerns about climate change.
This past February and winter season have been the warmest in North Carolina’s history with Thursday, Feb. 23 reaching a high of 85 degrees. WRAL meteorologist Anthony Baglione said this was the 15th instance of temperatures rising above 80 degrees in February.
Baker Bumgarner, a first-year in exploratory studies, said the warm temperatures contribute to creating the college atmosphere.
“[The temperature] helps everything feel more like college,” Bumgarner said. “Everyone's sitting out here in the courtyard, just playing Spikeball and throwing football, and I feel like it brings everyone together more as a community, instead of whenever it's cold [and] everyone's shoved inside.”
Elena Santos, a first-year in biological engineering, said she and her friends were trying to make the most out of the warm weather despite its implications.
“It’s kind of nice to just have a break — it feels a bit like summer,” Santos said. “Sunshine is very helpful for a lot of people, and it's definitely been helping me feel a lot better. … It's a little worrying from a climate change standpoint, but I am still trying to enjoy it. Obviously, it would be a bit worrying if the weather were to continue this way.”
Jacob Hambright, a third-year in psychology, said he is not very worried about the environmental implications of this weather as he thinks it is characteristic of North Carolina weather.
“There's been some variation, especially North Carolina — it has always always been like this,” Hambright said. “If you go up north right now, it's frigid up there.”
Walter Robinson, professor of atmospheric sciences and co-director of NC State’s Climate Change & Society program, said varying temperatures are common and natural to North Carolina as the state receives air systems from the North Pole and the Gulf of Mexico.
“It's 30 to 40 degrees above the normal high, but where we live, the basics of climate in North Carolina or anywhere in temperate latitudes, mid-latitudes, temperatures are really, really variable all the time,” Robinson said. “We are positioned in between air coming from arctic and from the gulf. It all depends on air circulation.”
Robinson said global warming adds another dimension to this natural variability, heightening the extremes the temperatures can reach.
“Global warming is always happening,” Robinson said. “North Carolina Climate Science report looked at this, and temperatures have been rising pretty steadily in North Carolina since around the 1970s. That’s 50 years where it's been getting steadily warmer, and that's the global climate change effect. … It gets rarer and rarer to break a record-low temperature.”
Laura Widman, associate professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist, said it is common to feel down during dreary weather that occurs during the winter months and happier during warmer weather. This is not to be confused with seasonal affective disorder, a rare disorder that causes serious symptoms of depression during the winter months.
“[The] idea that, ‘The sun's out, and I feel a little better,’ then ‘It's a rainy day, I feel like staying in bed,’ — that's pretty normal,” Widman said. “A lot of people experience that. But for it really to be tied to the kind of mood changes where somebody might be diagnosed with a mental disorder, we're talking about really interfering with functioning. So really having a hard time getting out of bed, maybe having a hard time looking into class, disruptions in relationships, changes in sleep, or eating patterns, those kinds of things.”
Widman said along with the chemical benefits of sunlight, warmer temperatures allow for easier access to activities that benefit mental health.
“A lot of us can boost our mood on a beautiful sunny day, getting outside, and maybe it's the sun, or maybe it's just the things we can do because of the sun, like enjoying time outside with friends or going for a run,” Widman said. “So some of our change in activity, that's also what's boosting mood.”
If symptoms of seasonal affective disorder persist, Widman said she advises contacting the Counseling Center to speak with licensed professionals and learn about available treatments.
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