If it feels like February has become the longest month of the year, you’re onto something.
Nebraska’s winters have been getting colder over the last 30 years, and February is mostly to blame, according to analysis by the Nebraska State Climate Office at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Martha Shulski, Nebraska state climatologist, said colder-than-normal weather in the month of February has been the main driver of the cooling trend.
In that sense, this most recent February in Omaha fits into the trend. It was the city’s ninth-coldest February on record, according to National Weather Service records that date to 1871.
Omaha’s cold February followed on the heels of slightly warmer-than-normal January and a noticeably warmer-than-normal December. As a result, the winter months will end up being about average for temperature, said Scott Dergan, a weather service meteorologist.
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Weather is complex, so parsing out the reason behind the cooling trend is difficult, Shulski said. But emerging research indicates that rapid warming of the Arctic could be a factor. Extraordinary warmth in the Arctic could be destabilizing the forces that bottle up the coldest Arctic air — thus making it easier for that air to drop southward.
“It’s indicative of what one would expect with the Arctic warming so significantly,” Shulski said.
Still, winters in Nebraska are warmer, in general, than they were 100 years ago, she said.
“The escalator is going up, but we (winter) happen to be in this part where we’re jumping down some stairs,” she said.
The months on either side of winter are warming noticeably, Shulski said. November and March, but especially March, are seeing a sharp increase in average temperature.
Similar trends are evident in Iowa, said Justin Glisan, state climatologist. Winter is getting cooler, followed by a sharp uptick in March warmth.
It’s hard to say what winter will look like in another 30-plus years, when Nebraska’s average temperature is expected to have increased by 4 degrees, said Michael Hayes, a climatologist at UNL.
It’s reasonable to expect that winter would see some shifting from snow to rain and ice in Nebraska, Hayes said. Even if rain and ice increase, he said, winter could become snowier. That’s because the planet has become more humid, which means there is more moisture in the air to form snow.