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Warm February Closes Out Eleventh Warmest Winter in Oklahoma

Golf clubs replaced parkas as the outdoor accessory of choice this winter, and Oklahoma’s kids can only dream of missed school days filled with sledding and snowball fights. The mildness of this winter – the 11th warmest on record at nearly 3 degrees above normal – stands in stark contrast to the cold, snowy experiences of the previous two years. The winter of 2009-10 was the state’s seventh coldest on record at more than 4 degrees below normal. Statewide average records date back to 1895. Oklahoma City and Tulsa both recorded approximately 23 inches of snow that cool season. The snow was plentiful last winter as well. Tulsa measured the highest seasonal snowfall total in its history with 26.1 inches, and the small town of Spavinaw broke the all-time state record for 24-hour snowfall with 27 inches. Tulsa has recorded a paltry 1.7 inches of snow so far this cool season and Oklahoma City reported a similar total of 1.8 inches. The all-time state record minimum temperature also fell last year with a reading of minus 31 degrees at Nowata on Feb. 10. Across the 120-station Oklahoma Mesonet weather network, 266 below-zero temperatures were recorded last winter compared to just four such readings this winter. This winter ranked as the ninth warmest in Oklahoma City dating back to 1891. Tulsa’s average winter temperature tied for the sixth warmest dating back to 1905.  

At 2 degrees above normal across the state, February’s warmth was not quite as striking as the previous two winter months, but it still managed to rank as the 33rd warmest February on record. The statewide average precipitation total of 1.78 inches was virtually normal and ranked as the 42nd wettest February on record. Much of the state was actually a bit on the dry side, but the fourth wettest February on record for north central Oklahoma helped boost the statewide average. This winter was the second wettest on record for north central Oklahoma with an average total of 6.84 inches, a surplus of 3.39 inches. Statewide, this winter was the 30th wettest with an average of 6.08 inches, 0.85 inches above normal.

The abundant moisture over the last several months helped alleviate drought conditions that have existed since October 2010. The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report, released March 1, reveals 66 percent of the state remains in some level of drought, as opposed to 93 percent at the end of November 2011. The most severe drought conditions remain in the Panhandle and southwestern Oklahoma, where agricultural producers have expressed concerns of another dismal year if rains fail to materialize soon. Much of southeastern and east central Oklahoma is completely free of drought thanks to beneficial rains over the last several months. On the opposite side of the state, parts of the Oklahoma Panhandle have received less than 10 inches of rain in the 17 months since the start of October 2010.

The temperature outlook from forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is for the unusual warmth of winter to bleed right into March and continue through spring for much of the eastern two-thirds of the United States. The precipitation outlook calls for increased chances of below normal precipitation across the western half of Oklahoma for March and for the Panhandle and extreme western Oklahoma through spring.  Equal chances for above-, below- and near-normal precipitation exist for the rest of the state. Unfortunately, the latest Seasonal Drought Outlook from the CPC reflects those chances for warmer and drier weather over the next three months. That outlook calls for the persistence or intensification of drought conditions through May for much of western, northern and central Oklahoma.