Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. February 2020 marked not only the second warmest February, but also closed out the planet’s second warmest December – February season on record.
According to the State of the Climate Report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.91°F, which is 2.11°F above the 20th-century average. This February also marked the 422nd consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.
It is also important to note that the ten warmest Februarys have all occured since 1998.
The three-month period of December, January, and February –meteorological winterin the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 2.02°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record.
While heat dominated most of the planet this season, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, it was the sixth warmest winter on record.
In fact, February’s temperature marked the highest departure from average for any month during ENSO neutral conditions. That means neither El Niño nor La Niña was present in the Pacific to influence temperatures.
According to a study by Climate Central, the frequency and duration of these frosty events in the contiguous US have been declining as the overall climate warms. Looking at data from cities across the country, the non-profit news organization found that some places, such as Las Vegas, NV, have lost cold days faster than others. Here in New York City, the average reduction was 5 days since 1970.
February is usually the snowiest month on the calendar in New York City, but to date this year we have not seen a single flake. This shortfall of snow is indicative of the weather pattern that has dominated the region for most of the 2019-2020 winter season.
To produce snow, you need moisture and cold air in place at the same time. While the city has had a few cold snaps this winter, they have not lasted very long. Consequently, the storms that have rolled through the area dropped mostly rain. In fact, the city currently has a rain surplus and snow deficit.
Here is a look at the current stats for the season (December 1 to present):
All measurements in inches. Credit: The Weather Gamut
The spring equinox is still a month away, so things could change. If you are a snow-lover, keep your finger crossed.
Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when chocolate treats and images hearts abound. But for me, it is George Bellows’ Love of Winter that always comes to mind as we mark the mid-point of what is usually New York City’s snowiest month of the year.
A longtime personal favorite, this 1914 painting captures the spirit of those who embrace the season. Filled with the blurred movement of skaters on a frozen pond and accented with spots of bright color that pop against the white snow, it conveys the joy of being out in nature on a cold winter day.
While Bellows is better known for depicting scenes of boxing matches and urban life, art historians say he enjoyed the challenge of painting the varied lighting conditions produced by a snow-covered landscape. In fact, he wrote a letter to a friend in January 1914 complaining about the lack of snow in the New York City area that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, on February 13, a blizzard hit the region. The wintry conditions inspired him to create this joyful painting.
Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. Happy Valentine’s Day!
“Love of Winter”, 1914 by George Bellows. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
Across the contiguous United States, winter temperatures have increased an average of nearly 3°F over the past fifty years, according to Climate Central. The northern part of the country has seen the largest seasonal increase led by Burlington, VT with 6.8°F of warming since 1970.
Warmer winters may feel like a positive thing for some people, but they do not come without consequences. Periods of consistently cold temperatures help limit pest populations such as mosquitos and other pesky bugs. They also play an important role in plant development, especially for fruit trees that need a period of dormancy. Moreover, warmer winters threaten the livelihood of communities that depend on winter tourism, particularly ski resorts.
Looking ahead, asgreenhouse gas emissionscontinue to increase, so too will the temperature and its associated impacts throughout the year.
January, the so-called Dead of Winter, was unusually mild across much of the United States. No state in the Lower 48 ranked average or below average for the month, according to NOAA.
Taken as a whole, the mean temperature for the contiguous states was 35.5°F. At 5.4°F above the 20th-century average, January 2020 now ranks as the country’s fifth warmest January on record.
Regionally, the Northeast and Great Lakes were of particular note. Temperatures were much above average in both areas, with the Northeast posting its tenth warmest January and a large portion of the Great Lakes remaining unfrozen.
Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.
On this day, according to folklore, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog. If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.
The practice of using animal behavior to try to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with here in the United States grew out of old-world superstitions connected to the date of Candlemas, a Christian feast day, that German settlers brought to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.
The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania. He gained national celebrity status after starring in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. Here in New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg. A resident of the Staten Island Zoo, he is more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, both groundhogs are calling for an early spring.
That said, long-range forecasts can be a tricky business. So, we will have to wait and see what actually happens. Either way, the spring equinox is 46 days away.
In terms of precipitation, January was uncommonly dry. The city only received 1.93 inches of rain, which is 1.72 inches below normal. Most of this modest total fell during a single storm. Snowfall was also scarce. On average, the city gets 7 inches of snow for the month. But this year, only 2.3 inches was measured in Central Park.
January 2020 was the 9th warmest January on record for NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut