Trend of warm temperatures continued in 2020

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2021

By Skip Rigney

The year 2020 was the fifth-warmest for the United States in the last 126 years, which is the period that reliable and widespread weather observations have made such comparisons possible. The five warmest years, as averaged across the entire country, have all occurred since 2012.

Those were two of the more noteworthy results in the annual climate summary released on Tuesday by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

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On Thursday the World Meteorological Organization reported that globally 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. Last year would probably have easily set the record for warmth if the tropical Pacific Ocean hadn’t shifted into its cool mode toward the end of the year, a condition referred to as La Nina.

The WMO’s statistics, which take into account both land and ocean temperatures around the world, also showed that the decade from 2011-2020 was the warmest on record.

Our temperatures here in the six southernmost Mississippi counties were not as above-normal last year as in the rest of the United States, but 2020 was still warmer-than-average. The year ended up being the 16th warmest out of the 126 on record in south Mississippi.

March 2020 was one of the warmest Marches on record in south Mississippi. January and November last year were also unusually warm in our area, as they were across most of the rest of the eastern United States.

May was the only month last year that was significantly cooler-than-normal in our neck of the woods.

Precipitation varies much more across relatively short distances than temperature. So, while North Carolina and Virginia had one of their three wettest years ever in 2020, folks in the almost-always-dry states of Nevada and Utah were even drier than usual.

Fortunately, the Mississippi River watershed received much less rain and snow in 2020 than in 2019.

In 2019 huge precipitation surpluses to our north caused flood conditions along the lower Mississippi, necessitating the diversion of millions of gallons of freshwater into Mississippi Sound by way of the Bonnet Carre spillway in Louisiana.

In south Mississippi, 2020 rainfall was near normal with most locations near or slightly above the long-term annual accumulation average of 60 inches. Here in Pearl River County, a rain gauge six miles east of Picayune collected 63.89 inches and another 3 miles south of Carriere collected 65.04 inches as reported by the Community Collaborative Rain, Snow, and Hail Network.

The heaviest rain of the year at these two stations, between four and five inches, fell on October 28, 2020, when Hurricane Zeta roared into south Mississippi.

Zeta was our most impactful weather event of the year. In fact, the hurricane season of 2020 will be long-remembered across the central Gulf Coast for the seemingly endless parade of tropical storms and hurricanes that threatened the region. Pearl River County was in the National Hurricane Center’s cone of forecast uncertainty for eight different tropical cyclones during 2020.

Across the Atlantic basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and Carribean Sea, 2020 was the busiest hurricane season on record, with a mind-numbing 30 named tropical storms and hurricanes.

Whatever the temperatures and rainfall average out to be in 2021, I’m hoping that the hurricane season will fall into the forgettable category.