WASHINGTON — Don’t tell the folks who dug out of 100 inches of snow in upstate New York or survived towering snowdrifts in North Dakota, but on the whole it was about an average winter in the United States.
Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday that despite some extreme conditions locally, no state was much colder or warmer than normal and, overall, snow and rainfall was near normal too.
The data compiled by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center cover December through February, which is the winter season for meteorologists.
East cooler, West warmer
NOAA’s report shows the eastern United States was colder than normal, while warmer-than-average conditions affected much of the rest of the country.
Globally, though, the surface temperature was much warmer than the long-term mean for the December-February season.
For the contiguous United States the December-February average temperature was 33.7 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.7 degree above average. It was the 42nd warmest winter since nationwide records began in 1895.
Ten states from Mississippi to Massachusetts were colder than average, while 13 states from Michigan to New Mexico and Montana were warmer than average, the Data Center reported.
Nine of the past 10 winters have been warmer than the long-term mean for the contiguous United States.
There were some extremely cold January temperatures in the Northeast. Daily low temperature records were established in many locations during the coldest time of the year, and January 2004 was the 11th coldest on record for the Northeast.
However, temperatures during December and February were warmer than average throughout the region and statewide temperatures for the season as a whole were closer to normal.
Some of the extremes
Overall, precipitation for the contiguous United States was near average during the December to February season, but periods of unusually heavy snow and ice storms affected many regions of the country.
For example, more than 100 inches of snow fell in Oswego County, N.Y., in January alone, thanks to a series of lake effect storms moving off Lake Ontario. One storm dumped more than 4 feet of snow over a large part of the county.
Late January and early February storms in the Northern Plains led to the greatest February snowfall depth — 26 inches — on record in Omaha, Neb., and heavy snow and winds over 70 mph produced snow drifts up to 20 feet high in northwestern North Dakota in mid-February.
And a severe January ice storm in the Carolinas resulted in weeklong power outages in some areas and more than a foot of snow fell throughout much of the Piedmont.
Winter snow and rain in the western states helped ease drought in some areas.
At its most recent peak in fall 2003, moderate-to-extreme drought had affected 80 percent of the West, but the affected areas fell to nearly 50 percent of the region by the end of February.
However, following four to five years of drought most reservoirs remained below average. This winter’s precipitation resulted in average-to-above-average mountain snowpack levels in much of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West at the end of February, but snowpack was below average in large areas of the Southwest and Rockies. Melting snow is an important water source in many areas.
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