COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The near-record warmth Ohio experienced in 2021 lasted through its final days, ending with an unseasonable start to winter.

All major weather stations in the state saw a top-five warm December last month, according to data tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, bookending another hotter-than-average year with the nation’s warmest December yet.

Whether it was December’s average temperatures, highs or lows, all came close to their warmest in history in Columbus and across Ohio.

The capital city recorded an average daily temperature last month of 41.8 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions usually seen in March. At 7.4 degrees above normal, December was Columbus’ fourth-warmest on record.

“December was a much-warmer-than-normal month,” said NBC4 Chief Meteorologist Dave Mazza.

In Ohio, Dayton, Findlay and Zanesville saw their second-warmest Decembers on record. Even Cincinnati, where warmer average temperatures less often see near-record readings, had its fourth-warmest December going back 150 years: 8.9 degrees above normal.

Ohio city (Years of recordkeeping)Avg. daily temp. rank, Dec. ’21
Dayton (127 years)2nd-warmest
Findlay (80 years)2nd-warmest
Zanesville (76 years)2nd-warmest
Akron (133 years)3rd-warmest
Mansfield (102 years)3rd-warmest
Cincinnati (150 years)4th-warmest
Columbus (144 years)4th-warmest
Youngstown (94 years)4th-warmest
Cleveland (143 years)T-4th-warmest
Toledo (148 years)5th-warmest
Source: NOAA. For cities with multiple weather stations, station with longest history chosen.

“Our average low of 33.1 degrees was only 1.4 degrees below our normal average temperature for the month of 34.5 degrees,” Mazza said of Columbus, “incredible for a top 10.”

The average daily high temperature in the capital city last month was 51.3 degrees, an 11.2-degree departure from normal that was “wild for December,” Mazza said, when normal highs range from the lower 40s to upper 30s.

“We had one day with highs in the 20s, three days with highs in the 30s, 10 in the 40s, 12 in the 50s, and five in the 60s,” he said.

Only four days out of 31 recorded below normal average temperatures, Mazza added. Also, seventeen of 31 days were partly cloudy to sunny, “which is odd for one of our grayest months.”

Looking at the whole 12 months, 2021 was Columbus’ eighth-hottest year on record, with average daily temperatures 1.7 degrees above normal. Last year was also the hottest year on record in Akron and Toledo.

Ohio city (Years of recordkeeping)Avg. daily temp. rank, 2021
Toledo (148 years)Warmest
Akron (133 years)Warmest
Mansfield (102 years)2nd-warmest
Findlay (80 years)2nd-warmest
Dayton (127 years)5th-warmest
Zanesville (76 years)5th-warmest
Cleveland (143 years)T-5th-warmest
Youngstown (94 years)T-6th-warmest
Columbus (144 years)8th-warmest
Cincinnati (150 years)T-22nd-warmest
Source: NOAA. For cities with multiple weather stations, station with longest history chosen.

Nationwide, 2021 was the fourth-warmest year on record in the lower 48 U.S. states, according to NOAA. The six warmest years have all been since 2012.

At 6.66 degrees above normal, according to NOAA data, last month was the nation’s hottest December yet, beating 2015.

Climate change trend: More rain, less snow

Columbus saw just half an inch of snow last month as precipitation with the warm temperatures instead favored rain. The city was 4.6 inches below normal for December snowfall, Mazza noted, but it was still 1.38 inches above normal for precipitation.

Winter precipitation falling as rain instead of snow is a growing trend in much of the U.S. as the country experiences warmer average conditions. This change in the weather, part of a broader change in the climate, is primarily linked to humans emitting heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A 2019 report for the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, projects little change in the number of precipitation days in the Midwest through the end of the century, but warming temperatures mean more of that winter moisture will be rain.

“More precipitation will fall as rain and less as snow, particularly in southern Midwest states and towards the end of the century,” authors wrote, adding that “reductions of 30 to 50% in annual snow days are expected under lower emissions, and 45 to 60% under higher.”

Screenshot via Union of Concerned Scientists 2019 report “Climate Change in the Midwest: Projections of Future Temperature and Precipitation”

Columbus is 6.9 inches below normal for snowfall this year as of Tuesday (the snow season starts July 1), and more measurable flakes aren’t expected until at least this weekend. The capital city has seen just 1.4 inches of snow when it should have seen 9.3 inches.

With the lack in snowfall, Mazza remarked at the amount of sunshine Columbus saw beating on ground that was not covered by a normal December snowfall.

“Instead of wasting that energy/heat on melting snow and reflection, we were able to absorb more than what is typical in a December,” he said.

Despite the near-record warmth last month, Columbus got close to some daily temperature records but neither set nor tied any. The city did set two daily rain records, though: wettest Dec. 6 and wettest Dec. 25.

Mazza said the outlook for the rest of January is normal, chilly conditions with more chances for snow, as long as Columbus sees a typical weather pattern carrying from the northwest.

“Also, January can produce a couple of snowfalls that make up for the normal for the entire month quickly,” Mazza said. “Plus, as we kind of joke about always, it only takes one event.”

“We can have mild-ish, gray days with temps in the upper 30s all month, and one 8-inch event will all make us remember the month as a bad snow month.”