Sunrise at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Feb. 19, 2016. (Harrison Jones via Flickr )

From biting cold to spring-like warmth, February featured quite the hodgepodge of weather in Washington. But despite a few Arctic blasts and winter storms in the the days between December and February, meteorological winter concluded as the eighth warmest on record.

Wintertime temperatures ended high in no small part due to a super-warm December. December was record-warm by an enormous margin — the second largest departure from normal out of any month in any year. The month’s average temperature was 51.2 degrees, 11.5 degrees warmer than normal in Washington, and 5.5 degrees warmer than the previous warmest December. That put this winter ahead of the pack right off the bat.

[Washington, D.C., eclipses warmest December on record by an enormous margin]

In the three months between December and February — what we define as meteorological winter — the average temperature was 42 degrees, making it the eighth warmest on record, tied with 1991. Three of our top 10 warmest winters on record have come since 2000. Records in Washington, D.C., go back to 1871.

Wintertime precipitation was 2.83 inches above normal at National and toward the middle of the pack on long-term history.  Snow was 8.3 inches above normal thanks to Snowzilla, and it was the third snowiest meteorological winter of the 2000s (after 2009-2010 and 2002-2003), but we usually wait until spring to measure snow for the season (and we’re already the third snowier-than-normal winter in a row for the first time since the 1970s!).

We saw a few exceptionally warm days during the month of February with highs in the 60s six times, but we also experienced the coldest morning of the winter with a low of 13 degrees on Valentine’s Day. Snow wasn’t up to par, but we did get some mid-month action to whet the appetite of the snow-lovers in the area.

February recap

February’s average temperature of 39.9 degrees in D.C. was 0.9 degrees warmer than normal. It was the seventh warmest year since 2000, and close to the middle of the pack for the long-term comparison.

Precipitation was 3.79 inches, which was 1.17 inches above normal and the fourth wettest of the 2000s (32nd wettest all-time).

We saw 3.1 inches of snow in Washington — surprisingly, the same total fell at Dulles — which was below normal for the month, and the least since 2013. You can see how February snow has stacked up in the 2000s in this chart:


Our low of 13 degrees on Valentine’s Day was the coldest of the winter, and our warmest high was 65 degrees, which we managed to hit four times including just yesterday.

No records were set in February in Washington, D.C., or at Dulles, but Baltimore picked up a daily rainfall record when 2.61 inches of rain fell on Feb. 24, which broke the old record of 1.7 inches set in 1979.

A misleading upper-level pattern

Just glancing at the prevailing February jet stream pattern would lead one to think we just experienced a cold month in the East. But that was clearly not the case.

Warm and dry high pressure ridging sat over the Western states more often than not, but two factors contradicted this misleading upper-level pattern, and both were tied to the super-strong El Niño.

First, we would occasionally we would see the Western ridge smear eastward over all of the U.S. to deliver massive warm-ups. We saw that at the start of the month and again at the end. Those warmer periods frequently outweighed the colder interludes thanks to stronger El Niño-based Pacific forcing.

And second, the cold air connection was frequently weak and disconnected as the cold trough was not fully linked to the Arctic. Flow from the west would undercut the connection and prevent the typical cold air supply that we see in February.

The national response to the prevailing El Niño was again a warm one, though not as warm as our record-setting December.

For further information

The National Weather Service publishes nice monthly assessments about five days into the start of the next month. You can click on your closest airport location here:

Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Dulles International (IAD)

Baltimore-Washington International (BWI)