The state had a average temperature of 48 Fahrenheit (9 Celsius)
for December, January and February, an increase from 47.2 F in
1980-81, the last hottest winter, and more than 4 degrees hotter
than the 20th-century average in California, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement.
Warmer winters could make the already parched state even drier by
making it less likely for snow to accumulate in the Sierra Nevada
Mountains, NOAA spokesman Brady Phillips said. That snow, melting in
the spring and summer and running down through the state's rivers,
is vital for providing water in the summer, when the state typically
experiences little rain.
"Winter is when states like California amass their main water
budget, when snowpack is building," said Phillips, a marine
biologist. "If you're starting from a deficit and going into the dry
season, it's setting you up for a drier summer."
California is in the grip of a three-year dry spell that threatens
to have devastating effects on the state and beyond. Farmers are
considering idling a half million acres of cropland, a loss of
production that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage,
and several small communities are at risk of running out of drinking
The state also recorded its driest winter to date by March, despite
recent storms, with an average of 4.5 inches of rainfall, compared
to 11.7 inches over the previous winter, NOAA said.
Around the West and in the Great Plains, multiple states also
experienced warmer temperatures and low rainfall. Arizona had its
fourth warmest winter to date and Texas had it lowest reservoir
levels in 25 years by March.
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Despite regional heavy snow pummeling regions the eastern region of
the country, overall rainfall across the United States was far below
normal. An average of 5.7 inches of rain fell overall in the United
States in the past three months, causing the ninth driest winter on
record, NOAA said.
Climatologists and other scientists with NOAA's National Climatic
Data Center record a summary of temperatures and rainfall for all 50
states each month. Every three months, the federal agency releases
data on spring, summer, fall and winter weather.
The agency is planning to release its spring outlook climate
forecast on Thursday.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)
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