Scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say that last month was the second-warmest February on record, almost a full degree warmer than the average for all of the 20th century.
Calling the year’s winter “mostly missing in action” for many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information reported that this February came in second only to 2016’s offering, charting a 0.98 degrees Celsius rise above the 20th-century average of 12.2 degrees. So far, 2017 is on pace to keep up the warming trend, with January and February combining to give the second-warmest first two months of a year on record, again, only behind last year’s.
Globally, South America experienced its third-warmest February on record, North America its fourth, Asia its eighth, Africa its 10th and Europe its 17th. Sea ice in the Arctic was 7.6 per cent below February averages for the years between 1981 and 2010 and Antarctic sea ice was 24.4 per cent below average. Sea ice coverage at both poles was the smallest for February since satellite records began in 1979.
In Canada, a prolonged cold spell in December pushed Vancouver to one of its coldest winters, with an average temperature of 2.2 degrees Celsius between December and February, a full two degrees lower than normal (but still not the region’s coldest on record — the winter of 1949-50 had an average of -0.2 degrees).
Toronto, meanwhile, just went through its warmest February of the past 80 years, prompted in large part by this year’s jet stream which moved “almost into a summer position,” according to Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips. “We had the coldest February on record two winters ago, here we have the warmest,” said Phillips to the CBC. “That back-and-forth, up-and-down is more a mark that something is happening to our climate.”
Unusual weather patterns are leaving many worried about the impacts of global warming while at the same time allowing people to enjoy the “guilty pleasure” of warmer winters. “We may feel a vague pang of guilt or even concern when we feel a breeze just this side of warm waft down a Montreal street at the same time they’re playing “White Christmas” at the shopping mall,” wrote Montreal Gazette columnist James Mennie. But after generations of enduring blizzards, shovelling snow and pushing cars out of snowbanks, Mennie says, “our concern, however sincere, will be brief.”
A study last year that was published in the journal Nature found that the warming trend in the United States over the years between 1974 and 2013 has made the weather “more pleasant” for about 80 per cent of Americans. “Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer,” says the study, “and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes.”
The phenomenon is expected to be temporary, however, as most climate experts say that by mid-century, the dynamic will flip and summers will begin heating up, too. “We estimate that 88 per cent of the US public will experience weather at the end of the century that is less preferable than weather in the recent past,” say the study’s authors.