Winter clearly didn't pay attention to the calendar this year, and fall didn't follow the rules either.

Saturday was the winter solstice, the official start of the season, but winter booted autumn off the map right after Thanksgiving and things have been frigid ever since. In the first 19 days of December alone, the temperature was 3.1 degrees cooler than average and we've had about 1.6 inches of snow.

Autumn, which officially began Sept. 22, already was in the midst of an identity crisis fueled by record warmth when winter weather shot the thermometer south, weather experts say.

"This fall was the third-warmest on record, going back to 1895," said David Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University. The average temperature this fall, about 58.2 degrees, was 3.3 above average, he added, resulting in one of the latest leaf drops on record.

Considering temperatures in December have been lower than average and November was below the norm by about 1 degree, you must be wondering what spiked the season?

It was October.

"It just blew away previous warm Octobers. It was the warmest by far since 1895," Robinson said.

October's average temperature was 64.5 degrees. That's 7.3 degrees above normal.

September was warm, too, about 3.2 degrees above normal.

"We basically had two warm months and one cold one," said Joe Miketta, a meteorologist in Mount Holly.

It wasn't just the temperatures that were up and down. Precipitation totals have been erratic, too. September was 3.3 inches below normal and October rainfall was 1.91 above.

It wasn't until November that autumn began to feel the way it was supposed to -- it averaged 45.7 degrees the whole month. And yet, many of us could have eaten Thanksgiving turkey outside after sweating through a high school football game.

"People don't think November was as cool as it was because it hit 70 degrees in some parts of the state on Thanksgiving," Robinson said.

As for winter, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center says the United States appears to be in a La Niña year, which tends to bring warmer temperatures and average to less precipitation to our part of the country.

"Does it mean we're definitely going to be dry and warm? No, it's just trending that way so far," said Jim Poirier, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Westampton. "Generally, there's less snow during a La Niña period."

A long time ago, fishermen in Peru noticed their patch of the Pacific Ocean got a little warmer around Christmas, Poirier said. Figuring it was due to Jesus Christ, these fisherman named the strange occurrence "El Niño." (The Boy).

La Niña (The Girl) brings cooler waters to the Pacific and the two weather patterns alternate between neutral years.

Despite all of this happening thousands of miles from South Jersey, these two kids usually determine whether you'll be digging through a snowdrift or your attic for a pair of shorts you packed away in September.

Robinson tends to agree with the La Nina forecast.

"Clearly there's not a great opportunity to have snow," he said.

Both Robinson and the National Weather Service discredit the notion that "we don't get as much snow as we used to." Some decades get dumped on while others get less, but there's been no steady decline.

"New Jersey has gotten warmer and wetter in the last decades but the snowfall hasn't changed much," Robinson said. "The '60s were the snowiest. but we've actually had quite a number of large snowstorms in the last 15 years. It goes on and on."

If you're interested in alternative forecasts, the Farmer's Almanac is calling for plenty of rain and cold temperatures through the end of the month with more than a few possibilities for rain and snow in January.

According to its Web site, the Farmer's Almanac uses a variety of factors to determine its forecast, including sunspots and moon phases. The site claims it gets it right 80 percent to 85 percent of the time, but cautioned that weather forecasting is an "inexact science."

December certainly isn't conforming to the warmer, slightly drier, La Niña pattern so far. But the National Weather Service says there's only an 11 percent to 25 percent chance of a white Christmas in South Jersey on any given year.