NOAA 2002-024
Contact: Pat Viets
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Drought Worsens along Eastern Seaboard, NOAA Reports

Many areas of the Midwest and Northeast experienced record warmth during the December 2001 through February 2002 winter season, said scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., today. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

The December-February temperature for the contiguous United States was the fifth warmest, and the global temperature was the second warmest since records began in the late 1800s. Precipitation since September 2001 was the lowest on record in the eastern seaboard region from Florida to Maine, leading to severe drought in many areas. Using the world's largest weather database, NOAA scientists calculated conditions for the past three months.

Unusual warmth, which intensified in November, persisted across a large part of the nation during the winter months. "Much-above normal temperatures stretched from the northern and central Plains to the mid-Atlantic coast and Northeast, with ten states in the region recording their warmest winter since national records began in 1895," said Jay Lawrimore, chief of NOAA's Climate Monitoring Branch at the Asheville center.

The preliminary average temperature in the contiguous United States was 36.3 F (2.4 C), which was 3.3 F (1.8 C) above the 1895-2001 long-term mean, the fifth warmest winter on record. Since the winter of 1997-98, four of the five warmest winters in the 107-year record have occurred, and temperatures have warmed at a rate approximately 1.5 F (0.8 C) per century since 1895. The average 2001-02 winter-season temperature was also warmer than normal in Alaska, 4.7 F (2.6 C) above the 1961-1990 mean.

The record winter warmth experienced in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey also coincided with below normal precipitation in much of the same region. The winter of 2001-02 was the driest winter on record in New Jersey, Maryland and South Dakota. Precipitation was significantly below average in 27 other states, including all but one state (Vermont) along or near the East Coast from Maine to Florida.

Precipitation totals averaged along the eastern seaboard were the lowest on record for the September 2001 through February 2002 six-month period, and the lack of precipitation combined with warmer than normal temperatures led to widespread drought from northern Florida to Maine. Areas of the southeastern United States have endured drought since 1998 with four-year rainfall deficits greater than 55 inches in parts of South Carolina. Much of Maine continued to deal with drought conditions following the driest year on record in 2001.

A statewide water emergency was declared by the governor of New Jersey in early March, authorizing the creation of mandatory water restrictions and conservation measures. Local drought warnings were also declared this winter in the five boroughs of New York City, numerous counties in southeastern New York state, and central Maryland and its Eastern Shore. A drought emergency was declared in a large part of eastern Pennsylvania.

Above normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest during the winter season led to improving drought conditions, but severe drought continued in much of Montana and Wyoming. Abnormally dry conditions developed in the northern Plains due to below normal seasonal snowfall and unusually warm temperatures. At the end of February, severe to extreme drought covered approximately 20 percent of the contiguous United States.

Below-average seasonal snowfall totals across much of the central and eastern US was evidence of the unusual warmth and dry conditions. Less than 4 inches of snow fell in New York's Central Park from December to February, 15 inches less than normal, and snowfall in Boston, Mass., was less than half of the normal 32 inches. A notable exception was the lake-effect snow areas, where winter air masses moving over the warmer-than-normal Great Lakes produced abundant snowfall. Marquette, Mich., received 164 inches during the winter season and had their snowiest month on record in February. In the western United States, mountain snowpack was below average outside the Pacific Northwest.

Anomalous warmth covered most land areas of the globe during the December 2001 through February 2002 period. Seasonal temperatures from 3 to more than 7 F (2 to 4 C) above average covered large parts of North America, Eastern Europe and Asia. The only widespread regions of below normal temperatures occurred in Australia and the Russian Far East. The average global land surface temperature was 1.73 F (0.96 C) above the 1880-2001 long-term mean (based on preliminary data) during the December-February season. This was the third warmest December-February season, slightly less than the average land surface temperature during the same three-month period in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Warming in the equatorial waters of the central and eastern Pacific occurred during the December - February season with an increase in sea surface temperatures of 4 F (2 C) in the eastern equatorial Pacific near the South American coast in February. This warming is an additional sign of a continuing transition from neutral to El Niño conditions.

(March 7 NOAA press release:

The combined global land and sea-surface temperature was the second warmest on record, 1.06 F (0.59 C) above average, 0.20 F (0.11 C) cooler than the warmest such season, which occurred in 1997-98 during the most recent El Niño episode.

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Note to Editors: National and global data for the December - February period and for February are online at: