Bill Weigle's tree service in Lyndeborough, N.H., usually delivers five to 10 cords of firewood a day this time of year. He's sold only one in the past two weeks.

Business is "dead," Weigle says. "I've never seen it like this ... I feel like the Maytag man."

This winter's curiously warm weather across the Northeast and much of the Midwest has played havoc with more than seasonal businesses. In Washington, D.C., springlike temperatures have faked out flora, causing dogwoods and daffodils to bloom.

PREDICTION: El Nino, greenhouse gases making '07 hot

"There's been weird weather all across the United States," says Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, which was walloped by two major snowstorms last month. He blames an El Ni�o warming pattern in the Pacific for dry and warm conditions elsewhere.

"Another big player is what we call the 'long-term trend,' " said Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel. "That's a euphemism for global warming."

The combination of El Ni�o and global warming prompted Britain's Meteorological Office to say Thursday that 2007 could become the hottest year ever recorded. It said there is a 60% chance to break the record set in 1998, when global temperatures were 1.2 degrees warmer than the long-term average.

The balmy temperatures have smashed records. International Falls, Minn., which averages a high of 13 degrees this time of year, hit record highs of 41 degrees Wednesday and 37 Thursday. Buffalo has had more than three weeks of above-average temperatures, and all-time highs are likely Saturday in New York City and Richmond, Va.

The warm wave has had a silver lining for consumers and taxpayers. Electric heating bills were down 7.35% for Pepco customers in Washington and its Maryland suburbs. In Syracuse, N.Y., acting Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wright says the city could shave as much as $1 million off the annual $3.2 million snow-removal budget.

The picture is more mixed for sportsmen. Golfers in some areas are enjoying more time on the links.

In Michigan, two dozen people took advantage of late Octoberlike temperatures at the Traverse City Golf & Country Club on Thursday. "Normally we're closed," says Roger Bliss, the club's golf pro. "It's the first time anyone can remember playing golf in January."

Thin ice in Minnesota's lakes, however, has canceled ice fishing tournaments and put organizers of the annual St. Paul Winter Carnival, which starts Jan. 26, in a bind. Carnival spokeswoman Mary Huss says officials will decide next week whether to haul 56 flatbed truckloads of 300-pound ice blocks from northern Minnesota lakes or use plastic blocks to build a giant ice maze.

The tepid temperatures have been more than a nuisance, though. In Maine, it proved deadly Sunday when a college professor drowned after falling through thin ice on usually frozen Rangeley Lake.