By Gary McManus
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Merely looking at the temperature statistics for February would lead one to believe it was a frigid, wintry nightmare from beginning to end. After all, preliminary statistics from the Oklahoma Mesonet indicate that February finished nearly six degrees cooler than normal statewide with an average temperature of 36 degrees — the 15th coolest February for the state since records began in 1895.
Most of that cold weather occurred during the month’s first dozen days, however, setting a standard that occasional near- to above-normal temperatures throughout the rest of the month could not overcome.
February combined with a frosty December and cool January to produce the 12th coldest winter on record in Oklahoma. Climatological winter runs from the first of December through the end of February. The winter’s statewide average temperature of 35.5 degrees fell 3.3 degrees below normal.
Oklahoma’s coldest winter occurred in 1904-05 with a statewide average of 31.1 degrees. February’s lowest temperature of minus 2 degrees was recorded on the fifth at both Beaver and Boise City. Boise City only reached a high of 6 degrees that day and, at one point, registered a wind chill of minus 25.
Hollis managed to climb to 84 degrees on the 18th during a stretch of unseasonable warmth.
The lowest winter temperature recorded by the Mesonet was minus 12 at Nowata on Jan. 6.
Unfortunately, there were no extended wet periods during February, as dry weather dominated that side of the storyline, although a couple of winter storms broke up the monotony. The month’s first day saw four to six inches of snow fall across southern Oklahoma and some unofficial totals of more than eight inches reported in the southwest.
Northwestern Oklahoma got into the act just a few days later with reports of five to six inches in some locations. Regardless of those brief storms, the state remained dry for the most part. The statewide average precipitation total from the Mesonet finished at 0.51 inches, the 16th driest February on record at 1.25 inches below normal.
February’s story of dry conditions with brief interruptions by periodic wintry weather was a continuation of the previous two months, and the statewide average precipitation total for the winter finished as the fifth driest on record at well more than 3 inches below normal.
For northeast Oklahoma, it was their driest winter on record with a December through February average total of 1.56 inches, more than four inches below normal. East central and central Oklahoma did not fare much better, with their second and fourth driest winters on record, respectively.
The dry weather allowed for uncharacteristic cool-season drought intensification. Normally a time for moisture recharge, this winter had enough dry, windy and occasionally warm days to allow for drought to spread throughout the period.
The U.S. Drought Monitor map from Dec. 3 had 30.9 percent of the map experiencing at least moderate drought and only 47.3 percent seeing at least abnormally dry conditions. February’s final map showed 62.4 percent of the state in at least moderate drought and 100 percent of the state in at least abnormally dry conditions.
The Drought Monitor’s intensity scale slides from moderate-severe-extreme-exceptional, with exceptional being the worst classification. Abnormally dry, while not a drought intensity itself, can signify areas that are going into or coming out of drought. In this case, it indicates the former.
The temperature outlook for March from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) indicated increased odds of below-normal temperatures across far northeastern Oklahoma, but no indication of below-, above- or near-normal temperature expectations for the remainder of the state.
The precipitation outlook gave no clear indication of expected precipitation patterns for any areas of Oklahoma. CPC’s U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook for March calls for drought to persist or intensify across the entire western half of the state and also over into northeastern Oklahoma.
Gary McManus is state climatologist at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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