Southern Louisiana just experienced the warmest February in history, with the average temperatures in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette breaking record highs for the month, according to the National Weather Service.
All three cities had an average February temperature above 64 degrees, topping off an already seasonably warm winter. Lafayette also broke the record for their warmest winter — measured by meteorologists from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 — while Baton Rouge set their second warmest winter and New Orleans as their third warmest.
"Usually the main influence for our weather in south Louisiana is the Gulf of Mexico, and that surface temperature has been running above average," said Alek Krautmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's center in Slidell.
In the last week in February, the Gulf's surface temperature was two to seven degrees Fahrenheit above a 30-year average, Krautmann said.
"The low temperature for the last couple days of February in New Orleans and Baton Rouge was about 71 degrees," Krautmann said. "That's our normal low temperature for about the first week of June."
Lafayette had the warmest February with an average of 65.9 degrees, while Baton Rouge and New Orleans' monthly average came out to 64.5 and 64.4 degrees respectively, according to National Weather Service data.
Looking at the winter months, Lafayette also topped its historic charts among the three cities from this past season with an average temperature of 62.3 degrees. New Orleans was a degree behind at 61.3, and Baton Rouge averaged 60.6 degrees from the past three months, according to the National Weather Service data.
No one factor caused this season's warm temperatures, meteorologists from across southern Louisiana agreed, but it's more likely a combination of factors brought the heat. Krautmann said the jet stream running farther north could have lessened the cooler air and Lake Charles-based meteorologist Donald Jones said some might argue climate change played a role.
Jones said the warmer weather brought less freezes which has supported agriculture, but will likely also bring an earlier start to mosquito activity.
The warm temperatures were also a key ingredient of the tornadoes that struck the region in early February, Krautmann said.
The warm season has also boosted the area's crawfish crop, said LSU AgCenter aquaculture specialist Greg Lutz.
"It's helped a lot," Lutz said. "In November, I would have told you that we were going to be a month behind schedule, but now we're almost caught up.. (the weather) did save us."
Because of the dry autumn, crawfish had a slow start this season, Lutz said, but the warm winter was a catalyst for their growth. Crawfish are more active, eat and grow more when they are in warmer water, which has made them ready the beginning of this boil season.
However, the high temperatures recorded in southern Louisiana are actually part of a larger trend across the southeastern U.S. and even the eastern two-thirds of the country, Krautmann said.
"We can definitely expect this (warm weather) to continue," Krautmann said.