Published March 12, 2013
Winter precipitation amounts caused national drought levels to drop from 57.7 percent to 54.2 from January to February. Winter wheat crops in the Southern Plains benefited from a few late-season snow storms that impacted the country in recent weeks. Wichita, Kan., saw its wettest February on record with 21.2 inches of snow. More than half of that amount, 14.2 inches, came from one storm that shut down airports on Feb. 21. Amarillo, Texas, also saw a surprising amount of snow, receiving 19 inches in one day.
Overall, the continental 48 had the 15th largest amount of seasonal snow cover for the 1966-present record with 127,000 more miles of coverage than the 1981-2010 average. Several states saw one of their top ten wettest winters, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. Massachusetts brought in its eighth wettest winter, and Rhode Island had its third. Alaska had 32 percent above its normal precipitation amounts. These above-average rain and snow amounts were seen across the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast, with some of the biggest impacts in New England and the Central Plains.
The increase in the Plains has also helped barge transportation. Many waterways in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers were blocked off from barges because of low water levels. This slowed traffic and lead to route restrictions. Now water levels are up and formerly closed areas are now deep enough for transport.
However, despite the higher-than-normal precipitation amounts in these areas, areas with record dryness dropped the national average below normal by 0.12 of an inch. The Northern Plains, West Coast and the Rockies had very low precipitation amounts this winter. The biggest disparity was felt in California, which had the driest January to February on record with only 1.75 inches of precipitation. The average is 8.28 inches.
AccuWeather Expert Meteorologist Dale Mohler warns that this could be a problem for them this summer.
"The season started out stormy for the West Coast, but became quite tranquil," he said. "That's bad news for the snowpack in California. That snow is needed to help fill the reservoirs when it melts in the spring. Without it, they won't have as much water to irrigate crops."
The main citrus areas of Florida in the south and central part of the start are also being affected by a drier-than-normal winter, which will lead them into drier start to spring. Other areas of the south, especially Georgia and the southern Appalachians, were helped by late-season rains.
Many of the areas that did see above-average precipitation also saw above-average temperatures. The national average was 1.2 degrees warmer than usual. States east of the Rockies saw the temperatures rise, while the Southwest sat below normal. Utah was 5.3 degrees below its typical winter, its 12th coolest on record.
Mohler said that the cause for this is a "homegrown" cold rather than Canadian cold fronts.
"They had a lot of clear, cold nights. The cold air stayed kind of trapped over the region, spreading south from the Great Basin."
Florida, Delaware and Vermont, on the other hand, had winters in their top ten warmest.