02/21/2002 - Updated 09:01 PM ET
USA's winter weather defined by record warmth
National Climatic Data Center
Red on this map indicates nearly all of the USA was warmer than usual in January. The largest dots across the Midwest and Northeast show temperatures averaged as much 9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.
WASHINGTON (AP) The United States is basking in record warm weather this winter.
The nationally averaged temperature was 39.94 degrees Fahrenheit for November through January, 4.3 degrees above the 1895-2001 long-term average, said Jay Lawrimore, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of the government's National Climatic Data Center.
The previous record for the same three-month period 39.63 degrees Fahrenheit was in 1999-2000. Since 1976, the nationally averaged November-January temperature has risen at a rate of 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, the data center reported Thursday.
In the November-January period the unusual warmth stretched from as far west as Montana and to the East Coast. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont had their warmest November to January, and as many as 18 states from the Plains to the Northeast recorded their second warmest November-January, according to the climate center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A lack of snow cover contributed to short-term drought conditions in the northern Plains. Absence of snow has affected many winter festivals in the northern United States.
Overall, snow and rainfall was near normal, averaged across the country. A dry area stretched from Florida to Maine, worsening drought conditions along the East Coast.
Connecticut and Maine experienced their driest November-January on record and nine other states New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia and South Carolina were much drier than normal.
In addition to the United States, worldwide temperatures were also at record levels, the agency reported, focusing that finding on January.
Temperatures averaged across land areas were the warmest on record, or 2.43 degrees Fahrenheit (1.35 C) above the long-term January average. Ocean temperatures ranked as third warmest, or 0.74 degrees Fahreiheit (0.41 C) above the 1880-2000 mean. The report did not list the long-term averages, only the amount January differed from them.
Scott Stephens, a meteorologist at the center, said a high-pressure ridge in the upper atmosphere contributed to the readings in the United States by pulling warm air north into the country.
An ocean phenomenon is in its positive phase, which usually translates into warmer temperatures in the northern tier of states.
A new El Nino is developing in the Pacific Ocean, but that unusual warming is not far enough along to affect the United States yet, Stephens said.
Asked if global warming, a concern of many environmentalists, was to blame, Stephens was cautious. "There are those that will make that argument. I'm not going to make that argument," he said.
"Everyone wants to put a label on things and it's kind of hard to put a label on Mother Nature, especially when it comes to something as complex as the atmosphere."
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.