2017 February in Steamboat Springs seemed anomalously warm, and a century-long climate record (daily temperature measurements) shows us that yes, the high temperature for most February days in Steamboat does not rise above freezing much less above 45°F. http://emerald-mtn-geo.com/2017/02/11/warm-february-temperatures/.    Only two other years (1995 and 1934) had more than 10 days in February with maximum temperatures above 45°F.  On this data alone, we would have to conclude 2017 was not unique.  Occasionally, February temperatures in Steamboat are relatively warm.  During these years, it feels like spring has arrived early.  Note – the graph below does not show 2017 (as it was generated before the end of the month – but according to The NCDC – NOAA (National Climate Data Center https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/) February 2017 had 9 days with maximum temperatures at or above 45°F.

No. of ‘warm’ February days over the past century in Steamboat Springs, CO

Let’s examine continental-US February climate data to see how the temperature at one station in Steamboat Springs, CO compares to the nation. And let’s look at 2017, 1995, 1934 (all years with many days in Steamboat where the February temps rose higher than 45°F)

The maps below are published by:  The Prism Group at Oregon State (http://prism.oregonstate.edu/) publishes US climate data into accessible formats.  This website and scientists/data managers who format and archive the data deserve a thank you. This this very informative data is formatted to be publicly useful.

 

February 2017:  A large majority of the continental US experienced higher than normal 2017 February Temperature.  This map is generated by comparing the average 2017 February Temperature with a 30 year- normal or 30-year average temperature for February (1981 – 2001).

 

February 1995:  In 1995 – the central to western continental US experienced warmer than normal February temperatures (yellow to brown colors), whereas the eastern portion of the continental US experienced cooler than normal February Temperatures

 

February 1934:  in 1934, the central-western continental US experienced warmer than normal February temperatures, but the eastern 1/3 of the continental US experienced cooler than normal February temperatures.  (this map was constructed from NCDC-NOAA climate data made easily accessible by the Prism group —  I took the 1934 average  February temperature and subtracted the 1981-2001 normal –  it is not exactly correct to compare a 1934 temperature with a normal constructed from 1981-2001, but the time to construct a normal dataset with 1934 included is beyond the purposes of this post).

 

The take home:  Climate is complicated, but fascinating.  This exercise suggests that there may indeed be a fundamental change in weather patterns occurring in the past few years across the continental US.  There are years in which almost the entire continental US is relatively warm compared to a more normal of parts warmer/ parts cooler than average.  This exercise also emphasizes the different conclusions one draws from examining a 1-dimensional point data (Steamboat Springs – century long climate record) and a 3-dimensional  dataset (century-long record of continental US climate).

There are so many questions that can be answered with easily accessible data.  THANKS TO THE GOVERNMENT AND UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS AND DATA MANAGERS WHO MAKE THIS POSSIBLE.  ALSO, THANKS TO THE TAXPAYERS WHO FUND THE RESEARCH AND DATA COLLECTION/ARCHIVAL.  THIS IS A NATIONAL RESOURCE.

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