updated 3/9/2006 3:44:51 PM ET 2006-03-09T20:44:51

Record warmth in January helped boost the winter of 2005-2006 to the fifth warmest on record.

For all the states except Alaska and Hawaii, the average winter temperature was 36.29 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.2 degrees above average. The three months, December through February, are considered meteorological winter.

The warmest winter on record was 1999-2000 at 36.95 degrees. Others warmer than this year were 1998-1999, 1991-1992 and 1997-1998.

The National Climatic Data Center reported that this winter also saw worsening of drought in the Southwest and southern Plains, while it was wetter than normal in the Northwest.

During this winter, some 41 states had temperatures above average, with only seven near average and none cooler than the long-term mean, according to the center, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency said the warm weather reduced energy demand by an estimated 11 percent from what would have been expected in an average year.

Nationwide, rain and snowfall was near average, but extremely dry conditions prevailed throughout much of the Southwest and central and southern Plains.

This was the driest winter on record in Arizona and second driest on record for New Mexico and Oklahoma. Five other states — Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska — were much drier than average.

On the other hand, a series of powerful Pacific storms hit the Northwest and parts of the West during December and January and four western states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada — were much wetter than average for the season.

A major snowstorm hit the East Coast on Feb. 11-12 with parts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut receiving more than 20 inches of snow.

This winter also had Tropical Storm Zeta, which developed near the end of December becoming the 27th named storm during the record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It weakened below tropical storm strength during the first week of January without making landfall.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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