Have we just seen the weirdest weather of the season?

National Weather Service Warnings and Reports. Tornado Warnings are in red, Severe Thunderstorm Warnings yellow, and Special Marine Warnings purple. (Image credit: NOAA/NWS-Sullivan)

The extremely unusual weather we have experienced this winter perhaps reached a new peak last Thursday when, in addition to remarkable springlike temperatures in the southern part of the state — Madison reached a high of 55 degrees while Milwaukee hit 59 — there were confirmed tornadoes in several southern counties: Dane, Rock and Green.

These are the first February tornadoes ever recorded in Wisconsin. And this means we are in absolutely uncharted weather and climate territory. What’s more, this strange weather is not limited to our region. In fact, thus far the entire Northern Hemisphere is running its fourth-warmest winter (Dec. 1 through Feb. 7) in the past 76, years and we have a genuine shot at being the warmest ever by the time this month is over.

Thus far in Madison, we recorded a December that was 9.5 degrees above normal, a January that was 3.5 degrees above normal (despite a frigid week near the middle of the month) and a first week of February that was 12.9 degrees above normal.

All together this means our winter has so far averaged 7.15 degrees above normal — stunning and disconcerting at the same time. If we continue to be so much warmer than normal and also remain relatively dry (we are about 0.3 inches below normal precipitation since Dec. 1), the soil will continue to dry out, leaving spring planting compromised.

Thus these weird weather happenings, not unlike the disastrous floods from last weekend in California, cast long shadows and continue to deliver unprecedented impacts as the climate slowly but inexorably changes.

Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the UW-Madison department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, are guests on WHA radio (970 AM) at 11:45 a.m. the last Monday of each month. Send them your questions at stevea@ssec.wisc.edu or jemarti1@wisc.edu.

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