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Winter’s Been Warmer, Drier Than Normal

The government confirmed Thursday what many Americans already had sensed: This winter was warmer than normal.

Indeed, with a national average temperature of 36.03 degrees, this past winter tied with 1953-54, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Only 1991-92 was warmer, at 36.60 degrees, the center reported.

In 100 years of record-keeping, the coldest winter for the 48 contiguous states - excluding Alaska and Hawaii - was 1978-79 at an average national temperature of 27.10 degrees, according to the center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What’s to blame or praise for the mild weather?

Most likely El Nino, the Pacific Ocean phenomenon that has altered the high-altitude jet stream winds and sent a series of storms ashore in California, said Dave Rodenhuis of the federal Climate Analysis Center.

Asked if the warmth reflects so-called global warming, Rodenhuis pointed out that the United States covers only 1.7 percent of the Earth’s surface and that worldwide, there are regions of both unusual warmth and cold.

This also was a drier-than-normal winter, with a national average of 5.58 inches of moisture. The driest year was 1976-77 at 4.08 inches, compared with 8.50 inches of moisture in the winter of 1931-32.

Winter is defined as the months of December, January and February for purposes of weather and climate records.

Here’s a regional roundup of this winter’s temperature and moisture rankings across the country. A ranking of 1 indicates the driest period on record and 100 the wettest. Similarly, 1 would indicate the coldest winter and 100 the warmest.

Northeast: moisture, 19th, 7.42 inches; temperature, 88th, 27.37 degrees. Includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

East North Central: moisture, 12th, 2.33 inches; temperature, 91st, 21.00 degrees. Includes Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Central: moisture, 26th, 7.51 inches; temperature, 84th, 34.67 degrees. Includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Southeast: moisture, 42nd, 11.04 inches; temperature, 66th, 48.27 degrees. Includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

West North Central: moisture, 2nd, 1.12 inches; temperature, 89th, 23.73 degrees. Includes Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The only drier winter for this region was 1930-31 with just 0.84 inch of moisture.

South: moisture, 41st, 6.49 inches; temperature, 88th, 46.80 degrees. Includes Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Southwest: moisture, 56th, 2.58 inches; temperature, 97th, 37.37 degrees. Includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Northwest: moisture, 16th, 7.93 inches; temperature, 92nd, 33.97 degrees. Includes Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

West: moisture, 57th, 7.68 inches; temperature, 96th, 43.07 degrees. Includes California and Nevada.