The Winter That Wasn’t: Which States Were Affected Most by Winter 2012

Winter 2012 isn’t technically over yet. But we’re in the last few days, and, looking back, it wasn’t wintery at all … at least for the parts of the country used to heavy snow and freezing cold. For parts of the country that are used to mild winters, it was the worst winter in recent memory.

How bad was it?  And what states were affected the most?  Let’s take a look, using official government data and maps, and parsing the news, to find which five states had it the worst in a mild winter.

What’s Average?

StateAvg Precip (In)Snow Avg (In)Avg Winter (°F)
Alabama58.281.62524
Alaska22.793.6-21.6
Arizona13.6122.3838.1
Arkansas50.787.77526.6
California22.223.8414.3
Colorado15.9738.1636.2
Connecticut50.3938.3516.7
Delaware45.6818.223.2
Florida54.570.015439.9
Georgia50.721.2332.6
Hawaii63.7065.3
Idaho18.962615.1
Illinois39.3230.229.8
Indiana41.7233.22515.8
Iowa34.0534.4256.3
Kansas28.9223.115.7
Kentucky48.9816.52523.1
Louisiana60.090.52536.2
Maine42.2886.4611.9
Maryland44.6324.924.3
Massachusetts47.8857.715.6
Michigan32.8480.47814
Minnesota27.4457.84-2.9
Mississippi59.231.3334.9
Missouri42.2319.919.4
Montana15.3749.28.1
Nebraska23.6332.038.9
Nevada9.5427.5419.5
New Hampshire43.43162.159
New Jersey47.1522.524.2
New Mexico14.6315.4522.3
New York41.971.72811.9
North Carolina50.456.9327.3
North Dakota17.8242.98-5.1
Ohio39.1642.68615.5
Oklahoma36.559.99824.8
Oregon27.5523.432.8
Pennsylvania43.0244.65718
Rhode Island47.9828.520
South Carolina49.843.3431.2
South Dakota20.1439.551.9
Tennessee54.229.36727.8
Texas33.242.73721.7
Utah12.1651.619.7
Vermont42.82797.7
Virginia44.3915.7526.2
Washington38.7821.81620
West Virginia45.348.723.9
Wisconsin32.6445.325.4
Wyoming12.977611.9

Before we begin, though, what’s “average”?  Fortunately, the government has been studying that for years: NOAA has tracked precipitation, snow cover, and average temperatures.  But no matter what was “average,” this winter has been anything but.

This map gives you an idea of just how warm it was for much of the country, but the big winner in the warm weather sweepstakes was New England.  In most New England states, the winter ranked as the 2nd warmest on record: one slot shy of being the warmest winter since NOAA started tracking temperatures.  In fact, across the northern part of the country, you have to get to the West Coast — namely Washington state — to find a winter that had average temperatures.

That may sound pleasant, until you remember that a lot of New England states have skiing tourism as a major industry.  And no state is more dependent on having a snowy winter than the Green Mountain State, Vermont.

Vermont: Warm Weather, Bad Economy
Vermonters are deeply nervous that record high temperatures meant a bad ski season and thus a bad year for local industry and businesses that depend on weekend skiers and winter snowbunnies to keep themselves afloat.  If the skiers aren’t showing up, and it’s not a sure thing that they have, Vermonters could be facing a rough time economically for the rest of the year.

The Good News: Not all the ski resorts will have a bad year.  Colorado had a heavy snow storm in early February that made the mountains fluffy and white…even if that was followed a few weeks later with a snowstorm that caught the state department of transportation completely flatfooted. Or as Twittering locals put it: #snOMG!

North Dakota Has the Biggest Temperature Change

Meanwhile, the state experiencing the most difference from its normal temperatures could be found not in New England, but in the Midwest.  Specifically, the state with Mount Rushmore: North Dakota.

Most of North Dakota experienced temperatures significantly above the norm: between seven and 10 degrees, in fact.  And again, that might sound pleasant, and it is.  But with an unfortunate side effect: North Dakota is at major risk for dangerous brushfires.  Worse, it’s paving the way for a violent, tornado-filled spring as the warm air flowing from North Dakota means nasty tornado-spawning thunderstorms hitting the rest of the Midwest.

The Good News: Honestly, there isn’t much, although New Mexico at least got to experience a little more snow than usual, without it fouling up their roads too much.

Kansas Nearly Breaks Records for Rain…and It’s Still Not Enough

For most states, it was a dry, dry winter…unless you were smack in the middle of the country, in which case there was more rain than you ever wanted.

Kansas is typically fairly dry, and this year was no exception, despite the record-breaking amount of rain falling on the state.  A recent torrential rain system pounded the Midwest, causing flash flood warnings in Oklahoma and Arkansas and tornadoes in Texas. Despite facing eight inches of rain, Kansas authorities were unconcerned, since it’d been an unusually dry year.

In fact, Kansas would prefer it be cold and rainy at least for another few weeks; the mild, dry weather means the winter wheat is sprouting early, making it dangerously susceptible to wildfires and freezes.

The Good News: At least the rain did some good in Texas, where the state has been facing the worst possible drought conditions, ranked D4, in the nation.  The heavy rain has mostly put a stop to that, with D4 conditions in Texas shrinking from 43.3% of the state to 14.3% by the end of February…a welcome lift to Texas’ parched agricultural industry.

California Is Parched

Californians, meanwhile, didn’t get any relief.  Quite the opposite: they got all the standards temperatures they were expecting, but far less precipitation than they needed, and definitely a lot less than the state wanted.

California has a fairly unique water situation: being as it’s such a large state, with terrain ranging from mountains to desert, it relies fairly heavily on snowpack; snow falling on its mountains, melting and running off those mountains.  Snowpack helps refill its reservoirs, irrigates its agricultural communities, and provides quite a bit of water to the southern part of the state.

So when precipitation is only 60% of the average, that creates some very serious problems across the entire state, triggering drought conditions.

And, just because not having enough water wasn’t rubbing it enough for Mother Nature, California is also facing a worse than usual wildfire season.

The Good News: At least Illinois got some much-needed rain, even if it doesn’t feel like it: they’re currently in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave.

So What Does This Mean For Homeowners?

First and foremost, be prepared for a spring and summer no less wild and woolly: part of the reason we’ve had these mild conditions is that weather patterns have gotten out of whack.  As they right themselves, we may see the weather decide to catch up a little bit: out-of-season rainstorms, heat waves, and other unusual weather are likely going to mark the next few months.

Secondly, check what your state and local government are saying to do to prepare. For example, if you live in an area where flooding is common, you might want to see what you can do to ready your house for those problems. And make sure your gutters are ready for the wild weather to come.

Finally, don’t panic, and if you’ve got some unseasonably nice weather, enjoy it: after all, this only comes along once in a while.