The USA might not have recorded its warmest winter since data-keeping began more than 120 years ago, but it didn't feel that way for nearly half of Americans whose states sweltered through their warmest February on record.
Overall, the country recorded its 2nd-warmest February since climate tracking started in 1895, and its 6th-warmest winter, federal scientists announced Wednesday. Sixteen states experienced their warmest February ever recorded.
The average U.S. temperature last month soared to 7.3 degrees above average, scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said. Only February 1954 was warmer.
Cities and towns across the nation tallied an incredible 11,743 record highs compared to 418 record lows in February — the highest ratio of highs to lows, meteorologist Guy Walton said.
Some scientists already blame human-caused climate change for playing a role in the extreme February heat. “We found clear and strong links between last month’s record warmth in the United States, and climate change,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, senior researcher at the Netherlands Meteorological Institute.
Using observational data and computer models, scientists found that greenhouse gas emissions have increased the probability of extreme heat in February roughly threefold, said Claudia Tebaldi, a climate statistician with Climate Central and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Other notable weather anomalies last month included Massachusetts' first February tornado on record and Chicago's third snow-free February, NOAA said.
As for the winter of 2016-17, defined by meteorologists as the months of December-February, it was the nation's 6th-warmest on record. Two states — Texas and Louisiana — experienced their warmest winter.
Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia each tallied their second-warmest winter on record.
No state was record cold, though below- to near-average temperatures were recorded in the Northwest.
The average national winter precipitation total was 8.22 inches, 1.43 inches above average, ranking this winter as the 8th-wettest on record. Rain and snow reached extraordinary levels in the West, especially in Nevada and Wyoming, which both experienced their wettest winter ever recorded.
The onslaught of storms that battered California throughout the winter gave the state its second-wettest winter on record, delivering a near-knockout blow to the state's ongoing drought. When the winter started, about 73% of the state was in a drought. That percentage dropped to about 9% as of the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.
NOAA will release February and winter temperature and precipitation information for the entire Earth on March 17.