WINTER MUCH WARMER THAN AVERAGE;
March 9, 2006 — The 2005-2006 Winter season was the fifth warmest December-February period on record for the contiguous United States, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. During the same time, drought conditions worsened in the Southwest and southern Plains, while the Northwest endured heavier-than-average precipitation. (Click NOAA image for larger view of winter 2005-2006 statewide temperature rankings. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Exceptional drought was focused in an area from southern Texas through eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas to southwest Missouri. As of March 6, Phoenix had reached 140 days without measurable rainfall, a string that eclipsed the previous record of 101 days, which occurred Sept. 23, 1999, through Jan. 1, 2000. Additionally, Tulsa, Okla., had its driest winter since records began in 1888, with just 1.59 inches of precipitation during the three-month period.
The dryness exacerbated wildfire activity that burned more than 500,000 acres across the country since January and approximately one million acres since the first of November, according to preliminary data from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The vast majority of wildfire activity has been in the southern Plains, particularly Oklahoma and northeast Texas, where lack of precipitation and much warmer-than-average temperatures have prevailed this winter. By contrast, 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.
Several significant snow storms impacted the nation during the winter, including a powerful storm that hit the East Coast on Feb. 11-12. Areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut received more than 20 inches of snow during the event, which was classified as a Category 3 ("major") snow storm by the new Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale.
Also during the winter, Tropical Storm Zeta 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.
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