There were more cold days than warm during this leap-year February but, sort of like trying to claim an election win based on “popular votes,” ultimately all that matters is the overall tally that resulted in Longyearbyen extending its streak of above-average temperatures to 110 months.
But probably more frustrating to most who embrace winter in Svalbard was a freakish low level of precipitation, continuing a well-below-average trend since October that has resulted in a major lack of snow that’s making many areas popular with snowmobilers and dogsledders dangerous or inaccessible.
A frigid final half of February wasn’t enough to offset a warm beginning, as the overall average for the month of minus 15.5 degrees Celsius fell short of the historical average of minus 16.2 degrees, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. February is historically the coldest month of the year, followed by March with an average of minus 15.7 degrees.
As always, it’s worth noting the “historical average” is for the years 1961-1990 and climate change has seriously skewed those numbers in the three decades since – and those recent decades will be the new “average” starting next year.
There were 14 days of above-average temperatures and 15 below-average in February, and Mother Nature certainly closed the overall gap quickly at the end of month with a cold snap that included the month’s coldest day on Feb. 28 at minus 27.1 degrees. But most of the warm days were well above average, including a high of minus 0.4 degrees on Feb. 8, while many below-average days were by narrower margins.
A total of 26.7 millimeters of precipitation have fallen since Oct. 1 , including a near-normal high of 12.1 millimeters in November, compared to the average of 79 millimeters for that time period. The maximum snow depth has declined from seven centimeters in December to five in January to four in February.
While the above-average temperature streak is intact, this winter has generally been colder than recent years, which is resulting in some areas outside town that had open water freezing over. But that is creating its own hazard, as several warnings have been issued by The Governor of Svalbard and tour companies in recent weeks about inadequate snow cover in some areas despite the frozen terrain.