The temperature difference from normal from December 2015 through February 2016 over the Lower 48. (NOAA)

The Lower 48 states had its warmest winter in 121 years of record-keeping, NOAA announced this morning.

Temperatures averaged over the country between December and February were nearly five degrees above the 20th-century average. Every state but two were warmer than normal and all six New England states set winter records.

The warmth of this winter marked a stunning reversal from the previous year in New England, when it witnessed one of its harshest winters on record.

Rather than punishing cold and paralyzing winter storms, temperatures regularly shot up into the 40s and 50s. Burlington, Vt., and Concord, N.H., tallied just half of their normal snowfall. Bare spots were common at ski resorts normally up to their shoulders in snow.

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“If we didn’t have snowmaking, it would have been a disaster,” Win Smith, owner and president of Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort, told Freshies, an online ski magazine.

The lack of winter extended into the Last Frontier. Alaska logged its second warmest winter on record, almost 11 degrees above average. At the end of February, Anchorage had no snow on the ground for the first time on record during the month.

An index that rates the severity of winter at 52 locations across the Lower 48 found only three where winter conditions were classified harsher than “average.” Most places earned a mild-moderate winter rating. Several were record mild.


Winter severity classification, March 7, 2016. (Midwestern Regional Climate Center)

The benign winter could be blamed in part on the record-challenging El Niño event, characterized by much-warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean. Some of the excess ocean heat was drawn into weather systems entering the United States.


Time series of U.S. average winter (December-February) temperature over time, 1895-2016. (NOAA)

While El Niño is behind some of the warmth, long-term climate warming is also nudging U.S. temperatures ever higher. Of all the seasons, winters are warming the fastest in the United States.


(Climate Central)

The rising winter temperatures in the U.S. fit right into the global warming trend. Satellite-estimated temperatures show the planet had its warmest February on record by a large margin.