The Alabama Climate Report

Brought to you by the Office of the Alabama

Volume 8, Number 10, December 2017

Do you remember the day before Christmas Eve?

December 23 was a bit damp over much of the state, with rain amounts of from a trace to four-fifths of an inch. It was hardly memorable, unless you had to run through the rain to finish your Christmas shopping.

What were memorable were the temperatures. Alabama was awash in unseasonable warmth. Dothan hit 80° and Mobile 76°. Montgomery's high was 75°, while Tuscaloosa, Anniston and Huntsville all hit 71°. It hit record highs for that day in Russellville (68°), Hamilton (75°), Mobile (78°) and Jackson (79°).

There were even some complaints that it didn't "feel" like Christmas.

That wasn't the situation earlier in the month, when central into southern Alabama got a heavy coating of snow. On Dec. 8, Butler reported more than 7.5" of snow. Birmingham reported 4 inches, Calera 5 inches and Mobile one inch of snow. Dothan reported a trace of snow on Dec. 9.

It wasn't unusual that Alabama got snow in December. What was unique about that storm was how EARLY in the month we got snow. There were several stations that apparently got their first recorded snowfall for either Dec. 8 or 9. And while it isn't surprising that Atmore, Mobile and Evergreen hadn't previously gotten snow on those days, you know the snow is early when the same can be said for Gadsden, Guntersville and Fort Payne. (See "Local Climate Records")

Between those two extremes, December in Alabama averaged out to ... remarkably unremarkable. NOAA reports there were nine daily max temperature records broken, but no low temperature records. Of the 25 cities and towns in our monthly sample, ten were slightly warmer than normal and 15 were slightly cooler.

We shouldn't be much surprised. Winter weather is subject to much more violent swings and extremes than weather in other seasons. The 80° Dec. 23 in Dothan, for instance, didn't break a record.

Looking back at all of 2017, it looks like the year will go down as one of the warmest in the recent temperature record. That's based on records from the Southeastern Regional Climate Center for the state's four largest cities.

Mobile, with a climate record back to 1900, saw it's warmest year on record; Huntsville and Montgomery their second warmest, and Birmingham was tied for it's second warmest year.

It was also wetter than normal for the southern three fourths of the state. Mobile reported it's third wettest year on record, with 83.78 inches of rain. That was 17.6" above normal. Montgomery saw it's fourth wettest year, with 70.25" of rain for the year or 17.2" more than normal. Birmingham got 69.27 inches of year in 2017, which is more than 15 inches above normal. That was Birmingham's fifth wettest year.

Huntsville, on the other hand, reported only 53.57 inches of rain for the year, with was half an inch below normal. It was Huntsville's 35th "wettest" year.

The problem with some of these records, however, is their relative brevity. The SERCC's climate record for Montgomery, for instance, goes back to only 1948; Huntsville's to 1937; and Birmingham's to 1930.

That's a problem because it was so frequently hot in the 1920s and '30s. At least it was during the day. If we look at the high temperature records for Huntsville, with a temperature record that goes back to 1908, five of the ten hottest years in that record were before 1937.

On the other hand, if we look at the average daily low temperatures, before 1973 only 1921, 1922 and 1927 squeeze into the top ten. For daily low temperatures, the past three years have been the three warmest on record in Huntsville.

Another NOAA website that provides statewide averages for temperature and precipitation has these as the 12 warmest years in the Alabama climate record, through 2016:

1.   1921  65.7°
2.   1927  65.6°
3.   1911  65.3°
      2016  65.3°
5.   1922  65.2°
6.   1933  65.1°
      1998  65.1°
8.   1925  65.0°
9.   1990  64.9°
      2012  64.9°
11. 2015  64.6°
12. 1938  64.5°

So, if 2017 turns out to be about as warm as 2016 (which it might), then 2017 might be one of the warmest years in Alabama's climate history. Just not the top one or two.

- John Christy
The Alabama State Climatologist