by Brian Kahn
Feb. 23, 2017
California's biblical deluge has occupied many a meteorologists’ mind this February. But another notable story is unfolding across the eastern U.S.
Unseasonable warmth has kickstarted spring up to a month early in the Southeast, cut into already paltry Great Lakes ice cover and created skiing conditions more reminiscent of April in the Northeast. But the most outstanding aspect of the persistent February warmth is what it has done to the ratio of record highs to record lows.
There have been 3,146 record highs set for the month-to-date compared to only 27 record lows, ensuring February will go down as the 27th month in a row with more highs than lows. The astonishing 116-to-1 ratio of highs to lows would easily set a record for the most lopsided monthly ratio in history. There have also been 248 monthly record highs and no monthly record lows.
The increasing ratio of record highs vs. record lows is one of the hallmarks of climate change. By raising the baseline temperature, climate change has made it more likely for record highs to be set while decreasing the odds of record lows. In a world that wasn’t warming, that ratio would remain constant right around 1-to-1, but research has shown that hasn’t been the case with highs outpacing lows more and more with each passing decade.
There has been a huge geographical spread of warm and downright hot weather stretching across the U.S. The latest bout of warm weather has seen Milwaukee reach 71°F, Madison hit 68°F and Green Bay crack 65°F on Wednesday. All are February records and about 30°F above normal for this time of year.
Galveston, Texas also set a daily record on Thursday at 76°F, the seventh time that’s happened this month. Memphis airport set a record topping out at 76°F, and well, the list goes on.
The warmth hasn’t just broken records. It has been long lasting, too. Atlanta has cracked 70°F four times in the past week and has now had more 70°F days in 2017 than any other year-to-date. Dallas has set a similar record for the most 80°F days, according to Capital Weather Gang.
Miami has had 54 days above 80°F while also failing to dip below 50°F this winter. Both are record-setting marks, according to Brian McNoldy, a climate researcher at the University of Miami.
More daily records are in danger of falling across the Northeast for the latter half of the week as warm weather continues its march across the country. On the Texas-Mexico border, it’s possible temperatures could crack 100°F on Thursday.
This year’s freakish February numbers only tell part of the story. The warm weather has acted like a time machine, turning the clock more than a month forward in places.
In the Southeast, locations are seeing spring arrive up to four weeks early, according to the U.S. National Phenology Network spring leaf index. Spring coming earlier is another hallmark of climate change.