U.S. had 2nd warmest February and 6th warmest winter on record
Unseasonable warmth spanned 39 states; Western drought improved
In early February, Punxsutawney Phil, the nation’s most famous groundhog, saw his shadow and “predicted” six more weeks of winter for the U.S. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, an unseasonably warm February helped to boost winter temperatures for most areas east of the Rocky Mountains. And while parts of the West saw record precipitation, 10 states in the eastern half of the nation were much drier than average.
February By the Numbers
Last month, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 41.2 degrees F, 7.3 degrees above the 20th-century average. February ranked as the second warmest February in the 123-year period of record, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Thirty-nine states from the Rockies to the East Coast were much warmer than average, and of these, 16 across the South, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast experienced record warm temperatures.
A notable amount of station-level temperature records were broken during February, including numerous cities setting warm daily and monthly temperature records. There were 11,743 daily warm temperature records broken or tied, compared to 418 daily cold records. Of those, 1,151 daily records also broke the warmest temperature record ever observed during February, compared to just 2 cold records.
The average precipitation total for February was 2.21 inches, 0.08 inch above the 20th-century average. Above-average precipitation across the West offset below-average precipitation in parts of the Midwest, the Southeast and along the East Coast.
Most of the western United States was wetter than average, with heavy precipitation causing widespread flooding and mudslides in California and Nevada forcing area residents to evacuate impacted areas. Above-average precipitation was also observed in parts of the Southern Plains and Great Lakes. Five states in the Northwest and Northern Rockies were much wetter than average. Above-average snowpack was observed for most mountain locations in the West at the end of the month, with record high totals in parts of the Central Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Below-average precipitation was observed in the Midwest stretching into the Southeast and coastal Northeast, where 10 states were much drier than average. The above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation were accompanied by a marked lack of snow for many locations in the East. However, several winter storms early in the month blanketed parts of the Northeast and New England with snow.
According to the February 28 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 14.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down 0.5 percent compared to the end of January. Drought improved by several categories across California and Nevada, where a series of Pacific storms dumped heavy rain and snow with most reservoirs reaching capacity. Long-term drought conditions persisted across southern California. Drought also improved across parts of the Southern Plains and Northeast. Drought conditions deteriorated across the Mississippi River Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast. Drought developed on Hawaii’s Big Island, which had been drier than average for several months.
Winter By the Numbers
Much-above-average temperatures were observed from the Southern Rockies and Southern Plains to East Coast. Thirty-six states were much warmer than average, with Louisiana and Texas having their warmest winter on record, with temperatures 6.8°F and 5.7°F above average, respectively.
Near- and below-average winter temperatures were observed along the West Coast, Great Basin and Northern Rockies. Five states, mostly in the Northwest, had winter temperatures that were cooler than average. No state was record cold.
Above-average precipitation spanned most of the West into the Northern Plains and Great Lakes, where 10 states were much wetter than average. Areas of above-average precipitation were also observed in the Central and Southern Plains, Southeast and Ohio Valley. Nevada and Wyoming had their wettest winter on record, with precipitation totals 194 percent and 179 percent of average, respectively. In contrast to recent winters, California had its second wettest December-February with 184 percent of average precipitation. Only the winter of 1969 was wetter for the state.
Below-average precipitation was observed in the mid-Mississippi River Valley and parts of the Mid-Atlantic and coastal Northeast. Missouri was much drier than average, but no state was record dry for winter.
Other Notable Climate Events:
- Rare tornado in Northeast: On February 25, an EF-1 tornado impacted western Massachusetts, injuring one person. This was the first February tornado on record for the state.
Lack of snow for the Windy City: For only the third time on record, Chicago had no measureable snow in February.
- Continued drought relief in the West: By the end of February, 14.1 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down 0.5 percent from the end of January. Heavy precipitation helped to improve the drought in parts of California and Nevada; however, long-term drought persists in Southern California.
- Record warm winter in the South: Louisiana and Texas had their warmest winter on record, with temperatures 6.8 and 5.7 degrees F above average, respectively. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia each had their second warmest winter.
- Alaska has another warm winter, but not a record-breaker: The average winter temperature in Alaska was 5.7 degrees F, 2.1 degrees above average. Northern and western areas of the state were warmer than average. Despite being above-average, this was Alaska’s coolest winter since 2012.
- Wet winter in the West: Nevada and Wyoming had their wettest winter on record, with precipitation totals 194 percent and 179 percent of average, respectively. California had its second wettest winter with precipitation at 184 percent of average.
More: Find NOAA’s report by visiting the NCEI website.