The calendar has turned to March, and with that comes the end of meteorological winter. Meteorological winter runs from the first of December to the end of February, and what a warm winter it was: With an average temperature of 54.8°, it was the fifth-warmest winter on record at Charleston International Airport since record-keeping began at that site in 1938. At Downtown Charleston (Waterfront Park), it was the ninth warmest winter on record, with an average temperature of 55.6°. (Records downtown started in 1893.)
Very few freezes lead to early leaves
With warm winters come very few days where temperatures bottomed out below freezing, and the winter of 2019-2020 was no exception. There were just nine days at the airport where temperatures reached or exceeded the freezing mark, and only three mornings in the 20s — tied with 1992-1993 and 1948-1949 for fewest on record.
Meanwhile, there was exactly one freeze at downtown Charleston — the morning of February 22. This was the first freeze since the aftermath of the January 2018 snowstorm, and only the sixth winter where exactly one freeze was recorded downtown. (Three other winters recorded zero freezing temperatures — 2018-2019, 1949-1950, and 1931-1932.)
As one would imagine, the lack of freezing temperatures excites the flora around us, and data from the National Phrenology Network bears this out. Via its Spring Leaf Index, the NPN estimates leaves are budding some 15-20 days early across the Lowcountry. Of course, we want to watch this closely as March freezes after warm winters can be particularly hazardous to early-growing vegetation.
A wet winter, but a snow shutout
For the 25th winter since records began at the airport climate site in 1938, there was exactly 0.0″ of snowfall recorded there. 1989-1990, pop the champagne — your 8.0″ of snow that season remains the undisputed champion. (And no, that wasn’t snow at Folly.)
That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of precipitation, though — 13.06″ of rain fell at the airport climate site, tying winter 1970-1971 for 13th wettest on record. Downtown was a little bit wetter, even, with 13.50″ of rain — good for tenth wettest on record, besting the winter of 1965-1966’s 13.48″.
The record wettest winters:
- Airport: 1997-1998, with 22.94″ of precipitation
- Downtown: 2009-2010, with 17.57″ of precipitation
A brief look at February
- For the first time since February 2016, we did not set a top-five warmest February on record at the airport; the average temperature of 54.6° ties February 2001 for 23rd warmest on record.
- February 2020 was a top-15 wettest February on record, with 5.03″ of precipitation. The record-holder: 10.47″ of precipitation in 2013.
- Four low temperatures below freezing ties 2005, 1962, 1957, 1944, and 1939 for 28th fewest number of freezing days in February. We’ve only had four Februarys with zero freezing temperatures: 2018, 2017, 1992, and 1949.
- February is typically a quiet month for coastal flooding, and that largely held true this year, with just one tide reaching the coastal flood criteria of 7.0′ on the morning of February 21. For contrast, last February had seven coastal flood events. (See more at the NWS Charleston, SC Coastal Flood Event Database.)
Looking ahead to March
While there will certainly be cooler-than-normal mornings — we bottomed out at 32° this morning, for example — the overall expectation from the Climate Prediction Center is for a warmer-than-normal March across much of the eastern half of the U.S. as Arctic air largely remains locked in place well to the north.
And while we’ll certainly have rainy days — there are several possible this upcoming work week — CPC is giving a little favor to below-normal precipitation across the area for the month of March. We usually see about 3.71″ of rain in a typical March, based on 1981-2010 normals. Rain from February 17-26 helped erase the rainfall deficit across the area, with 6.49″ accumulated so far this year against a normal of 6.67″.
So, with all that, welcome to meteorological Spring. It’s as if it never left.
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