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The Carolinas had a warmer winter than normal due to climate change.

The Carolinas had a warmer winter than normal due to climate change.

Forecasters last fall predicted a warmer and dryer winter in the Carolinas. And that’s exactly what happened. This trend dates back at least to the 1970s. Federal weather data shows that winters are warming faster in the region than any other season.

Scientists believe it’s another sign that global warming is being caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

 Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at Climate Central.
Andrew Pershing, Climate Central’s director of climate science.

“Winter is the most warming season. This is a time when both in the Southeast region as well as nationally, we tend to get very solid trends, very clear signals,” stated Andrew Pershing, director for climate science at Climate Central. Climate Central is a Princeton, New Jersey-based organization of scientists and journalists focusing on climate change.

According to data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), winter temperatures in major cities throughout the Carolinas averaged 2-3 degrees above the normal. The 20-year average is from 1991 to 2020. This is a comparison of temperatures between December and February.

The trend for warmer winters continues into 2021. It was the sixth-warmest place on record globallyIt is also the fourth-warmest U.S. state, dating back to 1895.

The season began with Unusually warm DecemberIt was 6-9 degrees above the Southeast’s average. It was slightly below average in January, and then it rose to 2-3 degrees higher than normal in February.

Winter still happens. North Carolina saw snowfalls of up to 5 inches in some parts during a January storm.

“Winter is just a highly unpredictable season. Pershing said that there are still wild swings. “This winter seemed even more in that highly variable mode,” Pershing said. “Many places, including the Carolinas were unusually hot in December, and January was a little colder.”

Temperatures were, however, above average.

For example, Charlotte’s winter average was 3.3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. (Normal refers to the average of the previous 20 years. The same was true for Raleigh (+3.1°), Wilmington (+3.4°), Columbia, South Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina. These cities were both more than 3 degrees above normal. (See table.)

Another way to show the long-term warming trend in the United States is to look at the cumulative rise in winter temperatures over the past decade. Since 1970s Raleigh has seen an increase in winter temperatures of 4.7 degrees. Greensboro is up by 4.4 degrees. Greenville, South Carolina is up by 3.9 degrees. Charlotte and Charleston are both up by 3.8 degrees.

Pershing stated that the cumulative average winter temperature rises are greater in winter than in any other season.

The national trend is being mirrored by the Carolinas. According to NOAA’s Winter Temperatures Report, temperatures in winter were much higher than average in most of the lower 48 States. According to NOAA, the temperatures were above average in many of the lower 48 states. This winter, the average temperature in the contiguous U.S. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) was 34.8°F, or 2.5°F above average. This is among the warmest third of winters ever recorded. NOAA.

While higher temperatures are nice, they can also be dangerous.

“We have heard from many people who are talking with farmers, especially in Southeast.” These warm winters are when the plants get started early. Pershing stated that it takes only one day of cold weather for things to get back on track.

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This story was originally published in WFAE’s weekly newsletter on climate, which is published every Thursday. Subscribe at

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