U.S. Climate Report for February and Winter
Warmer-than-average temperatures dominated the northern and eastern
regions of the country in December, January and February, leading to the
fourth warmest winter on record for the contiguous United States. The winter season was also drier-than-average for the Lower 48, with dry conditions experienced across the West and the Southeast but wetter-than-average conditions in the Central and Southern Plains and parts of the Ohio Valley.
The average contiguous U.S. temperature during the December-February period was 36.8 degrees F, 3.9 degrees F above the 1901-2000 long-term average — the warmest since 2000. The precipitation averaged across the nation was 5.70 inches, 0.78 inch below the long-term average.
U.S. climate highlights — winter season
- Warmer-than-average temperatures
were widespread with twenty-seven states in the Northern Plains,
Midwest, Southeast and Northeast having winter temperatures ranked among
their ten warmest. Only New Mexico had winter temperatures below the 20th century average.
- Statewide precipitation totals were mixed during the winter season. The western states were particularly dry with California having its second driest winter on record at 7.82 inches below average. Montana was eighth driest, and Oregon and Idaho
were both tenth driest for the season. Drier-than-average conditions
were also present across the Northern Plains, Southeast, and Northeast.
Above-average precipitation occurred in the central United States, from
the Ohio Valley into the Southern Plains.
- The warm and dry conditions during the 2011-2012 winter season limited snowfall for many locations. According to data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, snow cover extent
during winter was approximately 237,000 square miles below the
1981-2010 average — the third smallest winter snow cover footprint in
the 46-year satellite record. Snowpack was particularly limited across
parts of the West, where parts of California, Nevada, and Arizona had
snowpack less than half of average.
- For the winter period, NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index
— an index that tracks the highest 10 percent and lowest 10 percent of
extremes in temperature, precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones —
was the ninth highest value in the 102-year period of record, with
nearly one-third of the nation experiencing climate extremes as defined
by this index. The elevated value was largely driven by extremes in warm
daily maximum and minimum temperatures across the Northeast, Upper
Midwest, and Ohio Valley.
- Despite a record cold January, Alaska had a near-seasonal averaged temperature at 1.4 degrees F below average, ranking as the 35th
coldest winter in the 94-year record for the state. A
warmer-than-average December and February balanced the very cold January
temperatures, resulting in a winter temperature nearer the long-term
U.S. climate highlights — February
- During February, the contiguous United States experienced
above-average temperatures with a national average temperature of 38.3
degrees F. This was 3.6 degrees F above average, making it the 17th warmest on record.
- Much-above-average temperatures
were present across the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast during
February. The Massachusetts statewide average temperature tied with
1998 as the warmest February on record at 7.9 degrees F above average.
In total, 12 states had February temperatures ranking among their ten
- Precipitation totals were mixed during February, resulting in a nationally-averaged precipitation total 0.25 inch below the long term average of 2.02 inches.
- Dry conditions
were present across the West, Southeast, and Midwest. The Northeast was
particularly dry, where New York, Vermont, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey each had a top
ten dry February. In contrast, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and
Louisiana had February precipitation totals among their ten wettest.
- According to U.S. Drought Monitor, as of February 28th,
about 39 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing
drought conditions, a slight increase compared to the beginning of the
month. However, the percent area experiencing the worst category of
drought, called D4 or exceptional drought, shrank from 3.2 percent to
2.5 percent. Drought conditions generally improved across the Southern
Plains where there has been above-average precipitation for several
months. Drought conditions deteriorated across parts of the Southeast
and the West, which had been drier than average.
- According to the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the monthly snow cover extent
across the contiguous United States was approximately 1.0 million
square miles, which was 139,200 square miles below the 1981-2010
average. The small monthly snow cover extent was in spite of several
large winter storms which impacted the Rockies and Northern Plains
during the month.
- According to preliminary data from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center,
there were 57 tornado reports during February, nearly twice the average
number of tornadoes for the month. Most of the tornadoes occurred the
28th and 29th, when a strong storm system spawned several strong tornadoes from Nebraska to Tennessee, causing an estimated 13 fatalities.