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Record Winter Warmth Sizzles the U.S.

Record Winter Warmth Sizzles the U.S.

Although you couldn't tell from rapidly depleting gas storage levels or lofty gas prices, this winter turned out to be the warmest on record for the United States, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And it was the third winter in a row in which record warmth cooked the United States.

The impact on population-weighted heating degree days was minimized somewhat because most of the above normal temperatures occurred in the western United States, but the heating season to date as measured by heating degree days still was 15% warmer than normal and about 7% warmer than last year.

Considering gas prices currently are averaging about $1 more than the same time last year and gas storage levels are 333 Bcf below levels at the same time last year, it's scary to think what a cold winter might do to the gas market. There's no need to fret, however. The way the winters have been the past few years it seems unlikely the U.S. will see a colder than normal winter anytime soon.

Since 1980 more than two-thirds of U.S. winters have been warmer than average, according to NOAA's temperature data. NOAA's analysis relies on the world's largest statistical weather database, which goes back 105 years.

The winter season's preliminary temperatures averaged 38.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.6 degrees warmer than the previous record, set just last year. In addition, the third warmest winter on record occurred in 1997-1998, although it tied with 1991-1992, at 37.5 degrees. The above normal temperatures were caused by the expected impacts of La Nina and longer term warming trends, NOAA said.

During the past winter, every state in the continental U.S. was warmer than its long-term average, with 21 states from California to the Midwest ranked as much above average. Oklahoma experienced its warmest winter on record with Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana experiencing their second warmest.

It also was the 16th driest winter on record. Long-term dryness intensified in the northern Gulf states with Louisiana reporting its driest winter on record and Alabama and Mississippi their third driest.

Many locations from the northern Plains to New England also established records for the latest date of their first seasonal snowfall, latest date without a temperature below freezing, longest snow-free period, or longest period between sub-zero temperatures. Although the eastern states experienced heavy snowfalls in the last two weeks of January, the accompanying cold air was short lived, as February established hundreds of daily maximum temperature records. Numerous locations from the northern Plains to New York set or tied their all-time maximum temperature records for the month.

The 1999-2000 season global land and ocean temperatures ranked as the 6th warmest on record, following the two warmest Northern Hemisphere winter seasons set in the past two years. Ocean temperatures ranked as 10th warmest at 0.5 degrees above average. Land temperatures, however, remained well above average, with this season's anomaly (departure from long-term average) ranked as the 4th warmest on record, at 1.4 degrees above average. The warmest global land temperature anomalies on record occurred in the past two winters.

Rocco Canonica

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