Weather Contrasts, ’23 vs ’24

Well, we’re getting to the mid part of the year now, and for a look weather wise, we turn to Corey Davis. He is the Assistant State Climatologist for North Carolina, and wow, what difference a year makes, huh, the first half of this year versus the first half of 2023 quite a contrast.

“That’s right, Mike, you really couldn’t imagine two years that have started much differently than this year compared to last year. You think back to 2023 in that winter. That was another one of those La Nina events that we had been stuck in for year after years. So we were drier than normal across the Carolinas last winter. But then going into the spring of 2023 we saw some decent rains, and pretty much got rid of any dryness that we had on the map. And then, thinking about late spring, early summer, last year, May and June were both pretty cool across the Carolinas, and some areas didn’t even see their first 90 degree day last year until the beginning of July. So compare that with this year. We were in an El Nino in the winter, so we were very wet, especially back in January. We’ve been back and forth in terms of precipitation between wet and dry since February, all through the spring. But now we’ve seen that hot weather and now dry weather in June. So looking at more widespread drought conditions this year, and really all of last summer, we never saw much drought pop up across the Carolinas, and again, now it is pretty widespread in North and South Carolina as we get to that midpoint of the year.”

Let’s look at this in a bigger perspective, if we can for just a moment, Corey as we compare last year and this year. But let’s go back and look at the averages overall. Number one, how does this year look overall, if we, if we take, you know, maybe a 20 year look, or something like that. And my other question there would be, we’re starting to see, and everybody recognizes that there is climate change, and we won’t get into the reasons for that or anything like that, but I think everybody recognizes things are different now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. At what point do we start to say, “You know what, this is the new normal”?

“I think we’re there. Mike, first off looking at the temperatures from the beginning of the year up until now. Most of the Carolinas are running two to four degrees above their normal average temperature, and that’s based on 30 year averages across the region. So that gives you a sense of how far above normal we’re at. And right now, we’re on track in some places for either the warmest year on record to this point in places like Raleigh and Charlotte, or at least one of the top three to top five warmest years on record across the rest of eastern North and South Carolina, to find another year that started this war. And we really look at 2017 out of the gate, it was another year where we had pretty warm weather through the winter, spring and the first part of summer, so that’ll be a big storyline for the rest of this year. Are we going to continue chasing that warmest year on record as we go through the rest of summer into the fall? But you think about those fingerprints of climate change, as I like to call them, look at last winter, no snow for most of the Carolinas, very warm temperatures, especially very warm nights, and those have continued even over the past week. You know, we emphasize that the afternoon highs when they get in the upper 90s at this time of the year, but equally important are those overnight lows. That’s when people and pets and plants all need a chance to breathe and recover from the heat, and we just haven’t gotten those breaks. But that is something we’re seeing more and more of in recent years, those warming night and especially at this time of the year, those very warm nights when that heat stress is sticking around.”

Yeah, it’s definitely different. I certainly remember when I was a kid, and that was more than 30 years ago, by the way, I certainly remember those winters being very different. That’s what sticks out in my mind. I remember growing up in the Raleigh area, and we would get snow on a fairly regular basis. You know, it may not be a lot, but you could expect it every year or so. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a decent snowfall here in the Raleigh area. And I think, like you said, that’s a that’s a real fingerprint, and telling the tale.

“That’s right, Mike, you know, you go back to January 2022, that was the last measurable snowfall across the triangle in most of eastern North Carolina. But also, you think about another trend that we’re seeing, and that’s a shortening of our winter season, and what we call the shoulder seasons, the spring and the fall starting to encroach on the winter. You look back at February this year, that was a great example. We were getting pretty warm weather highs in the 70s and 80s throughout the month of February. So that’s really just the spring beginning earlier than we used to see. And this year is certainly a case where the summer started a little bit earlier than we’ve been accustomed to, at least over the past few years. You know, the first week of May, we were already getting up around 90, and now you’re getting that typical midsummer heat building in here in late June.”

“And as you talk about climate change, that leads us into the idea of extreme weather with the prediction this year of a higher than average number of named storms perhaps coming in off of the Atlantic. So we’re still bracing for that.

“And thinking about the rest of the year, I think our precipitation is really up in the air, literally. We’re in a drought right now. How long is that drought going to continue? Is this going to stick with us summer and even into the fall? Or are we going to see some of those tropical systems affect us locally? In the Carolinas, we always say the best drought buster is a good hurricane, and I think the way things are shaping up this year, that’s likely to be the case. So we’re seeing the extremes, both in terms of very dry conditions at the moment, and then looking ahead to potentially extremes and very wet conditions if some of those tropical storms move in here in the Carolinas. So a little bit of both. And that’s the world we’re in now. You have to prepare for each of both.”