Environment

2017 Was A Warm — And Extreme — Year For Georgia Weather

Average overnight temperatures in Atlanta in 2017 were the warmest on record.
Average overnight temperatures in Atlanta in 2017 were the warmest on record.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The year ended with a cold snap, but 2017 was metro Atlanta’s third-warmest year on record, and it may turn out to be the warmest for the state.

Atlanta broke a different record in 2017: Average overnight temperatures were the warmest on record. So, basically, the lows didn’t get that low, said Bill Murphey, climatologist for the state of Georgia.

“Isn’t it fun to talk about warm temperatures when it’s near zero wind chill?” he said.

Murphey said Georgia is on track for 2017 to be its warmest ever recorded, beating out 2016, though some of the data are still being crunched. January through November 2017 were the warmest on record for Georgia for that time period.

“Really anywhere you go from the coast to the mountains and the Piedmont, pretty exceptional warmth observed last year,” said Jordan McLeod, regional climatologist at the Southeast Regional Climate Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

He said there probably is a connection to climate change.

“It seems to be getting harder to get near-normal or below-normal temperatures for an entire month, whether it’s December or July,” he said.

Severe weather was also a big factor in Georgia in 2017.

There were the tornadoes in January; 50 in Georgia that month, breaking the previous record of 15 set in 1972, according to McLeod. The total number of tornadoes in Georgia in 2017 was 113. The previous record was 63, set in 2008.

In March, there was a freeze that killed crops and made the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s list of billion-dollar weather disasters.

The timing of the freeze was a problem for Georgia farmers because it followed unusual heat, said McLeod. Crops like peaches and blueberries had begun to flower early because of the warmth, then the freeze hit.

“What really made that freeze impactful and what contributed to so much agricultural devastation was the unusually warm winter temperatures,” he said.

Then in September there was Irma, a tropical storm by the time it hit Atlanta; bringing the city its first-ever tropical storm warning, then rain, wind, downed trees and power outages.

And now, it’s dry. Typically, winter is a time for reservoirs to fill back up, but this year, some are still low, said Murphey.

“We do have a good chunk, about thirty percent or so, of moderate drought across the state so I would look for some of the dryness to maybe increase across the state over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

A drought in 2016 and most of 2017 led to water-use restrictions in metro Atlanta. Those drought-response rules were lifted in September.