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February 2001 USA temperatureMarch 14, 2001 — The winter of 2000-2001 was cooler than normal in the contiguous United States, NOAA scientists announced today. Using the world's largest weather database at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, the scientists calculated conditions for the meteorological winter, December through February. (Click NOAA image to see larger view.)

Preliminary data indicates this was the first colder-than-average winter since 1993-1994, the 26th coolest winter on record in the U.S. This is in contrast to the previous two winters which were the warmest. On the other hand, the average statewide winter temperature in Alaska was the warmest since records began in 1918.

As a whole, the nation had the 13th driest winter, particularly in the Northwest and Southeast with Florida experiencing its worst long-term drought since the 1930's. In contrast, above normal precipitation fell in much of the central U.S. during the winter with widespread record snowfall stretching from Amarillo, Texas, to Buffalo, New York, in December.

Detailed Climate Data for Winter 2000-2001

The nationally averaged December through February temperature in the contiguous U.S., based on preliminary calculations, was 31.8 degrees F, 1.2 degrees F cooler than average, making this the 26th coolest winter since national records began in the winter of 1895-96. This follows the two warmest U.S. winters on record, 1999-2000 and 1998-99, and marks the first colder-than-average winter since 1993-94. The winter began with record or near-record cold across much of the nation in December as arctic air spread from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast behind a series of strong cold fronts. Severe winter storms and record snowfall fell in many cities from Amarillo, Texas, to Buffalo, New York. Milder winter conditions were generally present across the U.S. during January and February, with eastern and southern regions of the nation warmer than average in February.

For the winter season, the eastern two-thirds of the nation was generally cooler-than-average with near-normal temperatures in much of the West and Northeast. Conversely, preliminary temperature reports indicate that Alaska experienced its warmest winter since statewide records began in 1918. This continues a trend to much warmer conditions in Alaska with winter temperatures rising at a rate greater than 0.3F/decade during the past 80 years. Winter temperatures across the contiguous U.S. have increased at a rate approximately 0.1F/decade during the same period.

For the nation as a whole, the winter of 2000-2001 was the 13th driest in the past 106 years. This contrasts with a general trend toward higher precipitation amounts that has been observed during the past 50 years. Drier-than-normal conditions prevailed across a large part of the eastern and western sections of the nation, most notably in the Southeast and Northwest, while precipitation from the front range of the Rocky Mountains eastward to the Mississippi River was above average. North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon experienced their 2nd driest winter on record.

Following its driest year on record, Florida remained extremely dry in the winter season (3rd driest winter). The cumulative effects of almost three years of below-average rainfall in Florida have resulted in the worst long-term drought since the 1930's, as measured by the Palmer Drought Index. Impacts from the drought include wildfires, record low lake levels (including Lake Okeechobee), and emergency mandatory water-use restrictions in many Florida communities. Over 1,300 wildfires have burned more than 83,000 acres across Florida since the first of the year.

Much of the Pacific Northwest experienced the fourth dry month in a row in February 2001. This persistent dryness occurred during what is typically the wet season, and resulted in the second driest November-February on record during the 2000-2001 season. Only the winter of 1976-77 was drier in this area of the nation. Reservoir levels continue to be generally below normal, and mountain snowpack in many river basins continues to be less than 70 percent of normal at the end of February with totals less than 50 percent of normal in some basins.

Temperatures across the globe were generally warmer than average during the Northern Hemisphere winter season. The global temperature averaged across land and ocean surfaces was 0.72F above the 1880-2000 long-term mean, the 7th warmest December-February period on record. This continues a trend of warmer-than-average conditions that has led to a global temperature increase near 0.3F/decade since 1976. The ten warmest December-February periods have all occurred since 1983. Temperatures in the tropics (20N-20S) continue to be held down by the presence of La Niña in the equatorial waters of the central Pacific. The average ocean temperature in the tropics was 0.41F above average, the 27th warmest on record. However, ocean temperatures north of 20N were the 5th warmest (0.70F above average), while temperatures south of 20S were the 2nd warmest on record, 1.01F above average. Land surface temperatures were also notably warmer in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere extratropics, 1.31F and 0.83F above average, respectively.

Warmer-than-average land surface temperatures covered much of Europe and the Mediterranean from North Africa to the Barents Sea during the three-month season. Above-normal temperatures stretched from Alaska to eastern Canada and were also observed across a large part of South America. Conversely, extreme cold and heavy snowfall affected northeast China and parts of Mongolia causing the loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock. Below-normal temperatures also covered a large part of central Russia and northern Australia.

Relevant Web Sites
Climate of 2001 — February in Historical Perspective

December 2000-February 2001 in Historical Perspective

Additional Climate Maps Are Available at NOAA's Climate-At-A-Glance

Media Contact:
Patricia Viets, NOAA Satellite Service, (301) 457-5005