Globe Stayed Warmer Than Average in February, NOAA Reports

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) global climate analysis released today, 2011 continues to show warmer than average conditions across most of the globe… with some notable exceptions. Cooler than average conditions were present across the eastern half of the United States, as well as most of Europe and Russia during January and February 2011.

Temperature departures from average during February 2011. Credit: NCDC.

At 0.72°F above the 20th century average of 53.9°F, the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for February 2011 tied for the 17th warmest such value on record (records began in 1880). The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for meteorological winter (December 2010 to February 2011) was the 16th warmest such period on record. It’s also notable that Arctic sea ice extent for February 2011 tied with 2005 as the lowest February extent on record at 8.2 percent below the 1979-2000 average.

Note that these temperature rankings are somewhat cooler than temperatures just a few months ago. Last year, for example, was tied for the warmest year on record. The relatively cooler temperatures can be attributed in part to ongoing La Niña conditions, the periodic cooling of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. In addition, the cooler than average conditions that prevailed in the eastern US through at least the first half of the winter were largely dominated by the configuration of a natural climate cycle known as the Arctic Oscillation.

The worldwide land surface temperature for February 2011 tied for the 28th warmest February on record. During February 2011, warmer than average temperatures stretched across large sections of the world's land areas, with the warmest temperatures covering most of Asia, central Africa, northern Alaska, and southern Greenland. Cooler than average regions included eastern Europe, western Russia, and eastern Siberia. On average for February, the western portion of the United States was cooler than average whereas the eastern half of the U.S. was abnormally warm.

As for precipitation, several record-breaking snowstorms caused the U.S. to have above average snow cover during February 2011, although this snow cover retreated considerably towards the end of the month. On February 1–3, a massive winter storm, dubbed the “Groundhog Day Blizzard,” hammered the central and northern regions of the U.S. from New Mexico to Wisconsin and New England. The storm stretched for thousands of miles, leaving behind at least five inches of snow in 22 states. At Chicago's O’Hare International Airport, the 20.2 inches of snow that fell was the third-largest snowfall ever recorded for the city.

February also brought above-average precipitation to much of Australia, which is also consistent with La Niña. February rainfall across Australia was 76 percent above average, making it the second wettest February on record behind 2000. Rainfall in southern Australia was more than four times above average, the wettest February on record for the state. The summer period (December 2010 – February 2011) was the second-wettest summer on record for Australia.

The driest anomalies during February 2011 were seen in parts of Brazil and eastern Australia.

Ocean surface temperatures in February were warmer than average across much of the world's oceans and tied with 1995 and 1998 for the 10th warmest February on record. La Niña weakened during February 2011, although ocean temperatures remained below average across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The February 2011 worldwide ocean sea surface temperature ranked as the 

10th warmest on record, at 0.65°F above the 20th century average of 60.6°F.

Significant weather events during February 2011. Credit: NCDC.

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC), La Niña will continue to have global impacts, a return to so-called “neutral conditions,” meaning a lack of El Niño or La Niña, are expected by June 2011.