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February 2017 likely to be Kentucky’s warmest on record, climatologist says

Following consecutive cold and snowy winters, the warm and dry winter of 2016-17 will rank as one of the warmest on record in Kentucky, according to state climatologist Stuart Foster.

“February is likely to go down as the warmest on record, breaking a record set in 1932,” said Dr. Foster, director of the Kentucky Climate Center and the Kentucky Mesonet at WKU. “The normal statewide mean temperature for February is 37.8 degrees, and temperatures at many locations across Kentucky have been averaging 8 to 10 degrees above normal as February draws to a close. January and February 2017 combined will likely be the second warmest ever.”

Based on data from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, the average temperature statewide for January was 41 degrees, or 7.3 degrees above normal, making it the 10th warmest January on record dating back to 1895.

Warm weather has persisted throughout most of the month of February.

With high temperatures forecast in the 60s for the final day of February, locations across the state have already recorded as many as 13 days with high temperatures reaching at least 60 degrees.

“Only 1976, when high temperatures hit the 60-degree mark on 17 days in both Bowling Green and Paducah, stands out for having more such days,” Dr. Foster said. “For the first time on record, both Bowling Green and Louisville experienced five consecutive days, beginning on the 20th, when high temperatures reached 70 degrees or higher. Record high temperatures were recorded at many locations on the 24th, including 81 degrees at both Bowling Green and Louisville.”

The warmth of February, however, has been accompanied by dryness, raising concerns following the drought last fall.

“Following a wet December, precipitation was abundant through the first part of January, providing initial recovery from the drought,” he said. “But since January 20th, most areas of Kentucky have received no more than 2 inches of precipitation, about half of the normal total, once again raising concern about the potential for a return of drought conditions.”

The effect of the dry pattern on streamflows has not gone unnoticed. “This is the time of year when streamflows and groundwater are usually recharged from winter rains,” said Mike Callahan, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville. “Those have been very light so far and streamflows are near record lows for this time of year. There are some indications that March rains will be better, but if these fail, low streamflows could be a concern this spring.”

With rain across the state in the forecast, Dr. Foster noted that outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center, including the monthly precipitation and drought outlooks for March, do not indicate an expectation of dry conditions going forward or the development of drought. “Still, the lingering effects of last fall’s drought coupled with recent dryness raises concern about the potential for a rapid onset of drought should the dry pattern of February persist will into the spring,” he said. “People who manage water supplies or depend on water supplies should continue to monitor weather patterns and prepare for that possibility.”

Contact: Dr. Stuart Foster, (270) 745-5983

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