The climatological winter came to an end this week, leaving behind temperature averages for the city and state that rank among the warmest recorded by weather officials in more than 100 years.
Oklahoma City recorded its ninth-warmest winter on record since 1891.
The state's winter landed just outside the statewide top 10; it was the 11th-warmest since 1895.
Official climatological weather records for winter are based on the period from the start of December through the end of February, which was Wednesday. During that time, Oklahoma City had an average temperature of 43.2 degrees. The statewide average was 41.7 degrees, according to data from the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“The most striking thing about this winter was the lack of really cold weather, especially in the mornings,” said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist. “So while it still got cold with the passage of fronts every so
One of the biggest changes in the weather pattern from last year was the stability of the Arctic air. Last year, that Arctic air made many plunges into the eastern two-thirds of the United States, hence the momentous snowfalls and frigid temperatures.
The same pattern held true for the winter of 2009-10.
“This year that Arctic air remained trapped in the Arctic Circle for much of the winter by a very strong polar jet stream,” McManus said. “When that jet stream did dip down to the south, it was farther to the east over Europe instead of the U.S. The result was one of the warmest non-snowy U.S. winters in recent memory and one of the coldest snowiest European winters.”
Some drought relief
The average precipitation total for central Oklahoma from Oct. 1, 2010, to Feb. 28, 2011, was 5.10 inches, or 6.44 inches below normal.
From October 2011 to Wednesday, the average total was 12.24 inches, about half an inch above normal.
“That was enough to alleviate some of those short-term impacts, but the reservoirs are still hurting due to long-term deficits,” McManus said.
In terms of statewide average precipitation, this was the 30th wettest winter since 1895, with 6.08 inches. That is 0.85 inches above normal.
While much of the state has seen significant drought relief over the last few months, there are still areas of the state that are hurting tremendously, McManus said.
Much of the Oklahoma Panhandle has had only nine to 10 inches of precipitation since October 2010, a 17-month period.
For that area, and in far southwestern Oklahoma, the devastation of drought has continued uninterrupted.
“Now, the key to drought across the state, whether that be development or relief, lies in how much moisture we get from our spring rainy season,” McManus said. “The same warning applies as it did last year, we should not look to summer for drought relief. So spring rains are vital.”
What's in store for spring?
Perhaps the most frequently asked question at the end of a season is what it means to the upcoming season.
McManus said La Nina is expected to fade in the spring, but its effects are expected to stick around for an extra month or two.
“We could see those drought conditions persist or intensify across the western half of the state,” he said. “There is a bit more hope for relief in northeastern Oklahoma, where lake levels remain quite low in some areas. The next few months look warm as well. There is momentum for added drought relief, however, if normal spring rains fall.”
Then comes an end-of-winter disclaimer.
Winter often forgets to check the calendar, McManus said. Snow and damaging freezes can extend into April.
Still a long way until harvest
In late March 2009, 26 inches of snow fell in a blizzard at Freedom and Woodward. The next week, temperatures across the state dropped into the teens and 20s, damaging crops, including wheat, McManus said.
That caution is a common feeling in agriculture, said Mike Cassidy, of Cassidy Grain in Frederick.
The Frederick area in southwest Oklahoma has had 16 to 20 inches of rain since Oct. 1, 2010, about 20 to 24 inches below normal.
In general, wheat harvest in the Frederick area begins around Memorial Day.
“We haven't had a winter to speak of,” Cassidy said. “The wheat looks good as of today. We've had enough tenth-of-an-inches and a little snowfall to get us to this point, but we need immediate moisture to continue the normal development of the crop. We've spent the last two years waiting on a rain.”
But there are others concerns besides the drought. Cassidy, like McManus, said that because the wheat is off to a good start, a late freeze could prove damaging.
“What we're scared of is getting our winter in March or April,” Cassidy said. “Because of the mild winter, the stage of the development of the crop is ahead of schedule and so there are concerns of a possibility of a late freeze.”