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2021 was another year of near-record warmth in St. Louis and across the US

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ST. LOUIS — It was another year of near-record heat in St. Louis and across the nation, as 2021 average temperatures ranked among the hottest on record.

Nationally, the year was the fourth-hottest in the 127 years on record in the contiguous U.S., according to results announced Monday — surging across the finish line with the warmest December on record, nearly 7 degrees higher than average.

St. Louis tied for its sixth-warmest year on record, based on data compiled by the local forecast office of the National Weather Service.

Experts were surprised by St. Louis’ finish, considering how cold the year started. The city tied its ninth-coldest February on record when it plunged into a deep freeze along with much of the central U.S. But the rest of the year brought above-average warmth, including five record-high days and the third-warmest December ever recorded.

“It felt like October a lot of the time,” said Jayson Gosselin, a meteorologist in the local NWS office and the leader of its Climate Services program, describing the year-end hot streak.

Overall, St. Louis’ average 2021 temperature was 59 degrees, 1.6 degrees warmer than the 30-year average from 1991 to 2020. It comes on the heels of a scorching decade, a trend consistent with recent climate expectations, as concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to climb and the planet warms. Four of St. Louis’ six hottest years on record have occurred since 2012. Six of its nine warmest have hit since 2011.

Local precipitation ended up on the wet side but closer to historical averages, with 2021 bringing 42.48 inches of moisture to the area — about three-quarters of an inch more than usual. That places 2021 as St. Louis’ 37th-wettest year out of the 141 years for which local records exist, Gosselin said.

But throughout the year, there was some whiplash between extremes, particularly when it came to local snowfall.

“The yearly total doesn’t seem that abnormal,” said Gosselin, describing the area’s tally of 12.6 inches of snow in 2021. But “we did have some odd months,” he said.

Gosselin said that “pretty much all our snow” was confined to a roughly two-week period amid the February cold spell. And “not even a flake” of snow came to St. Louis Lambert International Airport in March or December — shutouts for each month that have only happened a handful of other times in recorded history.

For overall precipitation, the year might be perceived as drier than it actually was, simply because it marked a departure from other recent years that have been so wet. In the last decade and a half, for instance, the area has only seen two years of below-normal precipitation — and three of St. Louis’ 11 wettest years have happened since 2015.

“It felt dry because of the wetness we’ve experienced the last 20 years,” said Gosselin. “That’s one trend we’ve noticed, is we’ve gotten wetter.”

The period of extreme moisture is consistent with what national climate experts say the Midwest should expect with greater frequency, thanks to the warming atmosphere, which can hold — and then unleash — more water.

Nationally, the U.S. also saw a continuation of recent climate trends: from the generally below-average moisture in the Western half of the country, to the wetter-than-average conditions in much of the Eastern U.S., all united under a persistent blanket of extreme warmth.

The average national temperature of 54.5 degrees was 2.5 degrees warmer than 20th century levels. The country’s six warmest years on record have all registered since 2012.

The nation also faced 20 separate weather and climate disasters that exceeded $1 billion in resulting damages, including episodes of drought, fire, flooding and other extreme events.

Only 2020 saw a higher number of billion-dollar events, with 22 incidents that year.

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