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Warmest winter breaks record temperatures into spring


If it felt like the warmest winter in memory, that’s because it was.

Thanks to a “La Nina” weather cycle, Watertown International Airport recorded its warmest winter since it began recording weather in 1949. From Dec. 22 until Monday, the last official day of winter, the average temperature was nearly 30 degrees.

“It’s been one of the mildest and least-snowy seasons on record,” said Buffalo National Weather Service Meteorologist Michael R. Pukajlo.

Two records were broken in the past two days. Sunday’s 69 degrees broke a 1927 record, while Monday’s 77 degrees broke a 1903 record.

According to Mr. Pukajlo, a local cooperative observer recorded 41.6 inches of snow for the entire season. However, he cautioned the data was unofficial.

The previous “warmest winter” came in 2001-02. Like this year, it was preceded by a cool summer, although last summer was soggier, including 3.14 inches of rain in a single day in August. The warm winter of 2001-02 was followed by a summer drought, which was then followed by severe ice storms in November.

But Mr. Pukajlo cautioned that a warm winter does not indicate what the rest of the year will be like.

“There’s no real correlation for that,” he said. “You can have a really warm winter followed by a cool summer or a warm winter followed by a really warm summer.”

This winter’s warmth has been a blessing for north country farmers, who now have a healthy amount of moisture in their fields as a result of less frost in the ground, said Jay M. Matteson, executive director of the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. Farmers are now better positioned to combat droughts this spring, he said. No frost in the ground has also reduced the likelihood of flooding for farmers because water can seep into the soil.

“Any precipitation that we’ve been able to receive has been able to soak into the soil without the frost,” he said. “That’s definitely a positive, because it’s building up the water table for farmers as we head into the drier months.”

But the absence of snow that usually covers fields this time of year in the north country, which helps moisturize the ground in the spring when it melts, could be detrimental for farmers, Mr. Matteson said.

“The snowpack on the ground usually helps build up farmers’ groundwater resource during the spring,” he said. “But the warmer weather has allowed more rain to soak into the soil, and I would say that we’re now in a neutral to positive situation right now” compared to other years.

Higher temperatures this spring may spur farmers to start planting their crops earlier than usual, Mr. Matteson added.

“If it continues through the rest of March and early April, you might see some of the farms turn the switch earlier and start planting sooner than they normally would, especially farms that have well-drained soil,” he said.

With such a slight winter, the city of Watertown saved about $150,000 in snow removal costs. Public Works Superintendent Eugene P. Hayes said that his department used half as much road salt as last year, saving about $100,000. His department also spent about $20,000 last year bringing in dump trucks to remove mounds of snow from city streets.

The remaining savings were in overtime costs, he said.

“So, it was a good winter,” he said.

In all, the city spent less than $1 million in snow removal expenses compared to $1.25 million in 2008 when more than 200 inches of snow fell in Watertown.

Lowville also had a record-breaking warm winter with temperatures averaging at nearly 27 degrees for the season. The last record was held in winter 1912-13 when temperatures hovered around 26 degrees. Lowville only had 58.8 inches of snowfall this year. Further into the Tug Hill region, High Market recorded 111.7 inches of snow.

In St. Lawrence County, Ogdensburg had its sixth warmest winter at an average of 25.3 degrees.

“This winter ranks in the top six warmest at all the stations,” Northeast Regional Climate Center Climatologist Jessica L. Rennells said.

Nationally, this is the fourth warmest winter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has recorded in the last 117 years.

NOAA also recorded Lake Ontario’s water level at 245.93 feet in Oswego as of Sunday — almost a foot higher than in 2011.

In Alexandria Bay, the St. Lawrence River reached 244.71 feet Sunday, roughly 8 inches above last year.

Times staff writers Jaegun Lee and Craig Fox contributed to this report.

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