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U.S.’s wettest winter on record is a ‘glimpse of the future under climate change’

"A consequence of global warming is that the extremes around the world increase."

December to February marked the wettest winter on record in the U.S. (CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
December to February marked the wettest winter on record in the U.S. (CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Wednesday that “coast-to-coast extreme weather” from December to February resulted in the wettest winter on record in the United States.

Wetter winters are precisely what scientists have predicted as climate change intensifies, Texas Tech climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told ThinkProgress in an email. Similarly, climatologist Kevin Trenberth pointed out, “a consequence of global warming is that the extremes around the world increase.”

NOAA reported that despite some frigid weather last month, the average temperature of the contiguous U.S. during the winter (December to February) was 33.4°F — 1.2°F above average — “ranking among the warmest third of the record.”

In terms of precipitation, NOAA reported that February set monthly rainfall records from Nashville, Tennessee (13.47 inches) to Tupelo, Mississippi (15.61 inches) to Huntsville, Alabama (13.63 inches) “with widespread flooding occurring along rivers and tributaries.”

February also saw record monthly snowfall totals in several parts of the country — Seattle, Washington (20.2 inches), Pendleton, Oregon (32.5 inches), and Minneapolis, Minnesota (39.0 inches) “all broke February records by impressive margins.”

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NOAA notes that last month, Eau Claire, Wisconsin not only set the record for the snowiest of any month on record — 53.7 inches — it beat the previous record (set in January 1999) by a stunning 21 inches.

Meanwhile, on February 21, Flagstaff, Arizona set its all-time record for snowiest day with a remarkable 35.9 inches — nearly 3 feet.

Hayhoe noted that “one of the consistent long-term trends we expect is an increase in winter and spring precipitation over much of the lower 48, particularly the Midwest and the Northeast.”

She pointed to this chart, from the Fourth U.S. National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report by top U.S. scientists that the Trump administration vetted and approved.

Projected change in seasonal precipitation due to climate change. CREDIT: NOAA, NCA.
Projected change in seasonal precipitation due to climate change. CREDIT: NOAA, NCA.

As the chart makes clear, climate change means wetter winters and drier summers for large parts of this country — and the world.

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Indeed, as Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Think Progress, beyond the record winter precipitation in this country, we’ve been seeing extremes around the world because of global warming.

These include record low sea ice in the Bering Sea, as well as very high temperatures across much of Eurasia. In addition, the United Kingdom and Australia recently posted their highest summer (DJF) temperatures on record.

“For any given weather, the rains or snows are greater, and temperatures in winter can be all over the place,” said Trenberth. “Welcome to a glimpse of the future under climate change.”

This post has been updated.