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What do 80-degree days in February say about Charlotte’s climate?

Nice day to get a Valentine

Monday's temperatures climbed into the upper 60s as Valentine's Day rapidly approaches. Outdoor sellers, like Diane Robinson on Freedom Drive, will be in place on Tuesday for any last minute purchases.
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Monday's temperatures climbed into the upper 60s as Valentine's Day rapidly approaches. Outdoor sellers, like Diane Robinson on Freedom Drive, will be in place on Tuesday for any last minute purchases.

You might have wondered, while hunting for T-shirts and flip-flops Sunday, why a summery 80-degree day would dawn in February. Seven things to know about shirt-sleeve weather in the supposed depths of winter:

It’s been balmy: The average temperature in Charlotte in January was 7.5 degrees warmer than normal, and 16 straight days were above freezing. Charlotte has already had nine days at or above 70 degrees this year, all at least 15 degrees above normal, including a record 80 on Sunday.

And it’s getting warmer: Annual average temperatures in the Southeast have increased by about 2 degrees since 1970. Extreme winter warmth in the region has been more common than extreme cold over the past decade.

Here’s why, scientists say: Researchers can now calculate the probability of whether climate change influenced past weather events. They found evidence, for instance, that man-made climate change was largely responsible for the globally warm 2015, the hottest on record until 2016 surpassed it. It's too early to say how much this winter's weather has been influenced by climate change.

What explains Sunday? This winter’s warmth in Charlotte likely stems from several causes, says Brian Magi, assistant professor of atmospheric science at UNC Charlotte. Among them are the cooling of Pacific waters called La Nina that typically brings warmer, drier winter weather to the South.

Some plants like it: Crops like wheat benefit from a warm winter, says Don Nicholson, a regional agronomist for the state agriculture department. Early-blooming daffodils feed emerging pollinators such as butterflies.

But some don’t: Strawberry plants that bloom after an early warm spell need to be protected longer than usual against late freezes. Ice from a late frost or storm also weighs heavier on ornamental plants that have leafed out, resulting in broken branches, adds Steven Capobianco, horticulture/agriculture agent for Mecklenburg County Cooperative Extension.

What to expect: Warmer than normal weather in the Carolinas through February.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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