Last year was one of the warmest and driest on record for Louisiana and St. Charles residents will continue to feel the effects into the spring.
Extreme and persistent heat mixed with minimal precipitation in 2011 caused the most "intense" one-year drought on record for the state, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
"Last year, the dominant weather feature throughout the year was that we were in a La Niña circulation pattern," said Frank Revitte, with NOAA. "That was one of our stronger La Niñas that we’ve had in recent times so that contributed to having warm and dry weather all across the southern tier of the U.S.
"That particular La Niña circulation pattern continues to persist into the winter (in the New Orleans area)."
Revitte said that the average local temperature last month was about 61 degrees – eight degrees warmer than the same time last year.
"It was a very unusually warm month, and that is certainly what people will remember," Revitte said.
In general, Revitte said that the La Niña pattern will make the next 2-3 months warmer and dryer than normal. But that does not rule out brief, sporadic periods of cool, dry weather during that time. The state is expected to come out of the La Niña pattern into a more neutral period in the late spring or early summer of this year.
Revitte said he expects parade-goers to experience normal weather during the Mardi Gras holidays in New Orleans this weekend. NOAA predicts temperatures between the mid 70s and mid 50s on Thursday, between the upper 60s and mid 50s on Friday, the mid 60s and upper 40s on Saturday and lower 60s to mid 40s on Sunday. Showers are expected throughout the weekend, except for Sunday when clear weather is predicted.
Last year was full of extremes for southern Louisiana and much of the rest of the country. A cooler-than-average winter segued into a warmer-than-average spring, summer and autumn.
Louisiana had its 7th driest year on record in 2011, including having its warmest summer ever and a winter ranking in its top 10 driest on record, according to NOAA.
Nationally, 2011 was the 23rd warmest year ever, including the second warmest summer with the highest number of 100-degree days in the Deep South.
While droughts intensified in the south, much of the northeast and northwest experienced near-historic wetness.
Storms coupled with the warm atmosphere associated with the La Niña pattern spawned tornadoes that killed 748 people in the southeast last April, a new national record for any month. A tornado in Joplin, Mo. the following month was the single deadliest tornado since the modern record began in 1950.
The hurricane season in the North Atlantic Basin was also more active than usual in 2011. With 19 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, it was the third busiest year for tropical cyclones in the basin on record.
Tropical Storm Lee made landfall in Louisiana in September, dumping much-needed rain but also causing floods and taking the lives of five people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Lee was the first tropical storm to make landfall in Louisiana since Hurricane Gustav in 2008.