Climate data shows warmer than average 2023 in the Carolinas

CHARLOTTE — Climate scientists in North and South Carolina released statewide data Tuesday recapping the 2023 year in weather. Both states finished the year with above-average temperatures, and despite a dry fall, yearly precipitation totals were slightly above average.

North Carolina

Scientists at the North Carolina State Climate Office described 2023 as a “yin and yang year,” due to the way its temperature and precipitation totals fluctuated from month to month.

Overall, 2023 was the seventh warmest year on record (which dates back to 1895) in terms of average statewide temperature. Several major cities across the state were well above their baseline temperatures, including Charlotte, which tied for its second-warmest year in 2023, and Raleigh, which had its warmest.

The increase in average temperature was driven mostly by a warm and mild winter. January, February, and December in 2023 were well above average. Meanwhile, summer got off to a mild start with lower-than-average temperatures in May and June, though eventually July and August turned up the heat.

The mild winter factored into low snowfall totals statewide with very little accumulation in the mountains, no measurable snow in Asheville and not even flurries across most of the central and eastern parts of the state. Charlotte is nearing two years without a single snowflake.

In terms of rainfall, that’s when Kathie Dello, the director of the state climate office, said the “yin and yang” pattern was most prevalent. The year started dry in the east, then the spring saw above-average rainfall. Late summer saw just two tropical systems move through the Carolinas, though they did bring substantial rain, especially to the east. By the fall, however, the state dried out.

Parts of North Carolina entered severe drought for the first time since 2016 as the state’s 10th driest October on record set the stage for wildfires in the mountains, low lake and river flows, and a short grazing season for cattle farmers in the west.

By the winter, the seventh wettest December on record helped the state get much closer to its baseline precipitation numbers.

In terms of severe weather, North Carolina saw 21 tornados, the most in a single year since 2020. That includes three in the winter. The climate office said winter tornadoes seem to be on the rise in the Carolinas due to the weather resembling our traditional spring-like and fall-like severe weather seasons.

South Carolina

The state climate office ranked South Carolina’s year as its ninth warmest, again driven by a warmer-than-average winter. South Carolina had its 2nd warmest February on record, with parts of the state getting into the 80s that month.

By March, climatologists say things cooled down, April saw above-average rainfall and statewide, it was the coolest May on record. That cooler weather hung on into June, before temperatures got back on track for July and August.

Summer saw temperatures around average with few extreme heat waves. Not a single weather station recorded temperatures above 100F. Tropical storms Idalia and Ophelia brought heavy rain to the eastern parts of the state, however by the fall, things dried off.

Drought conditions were primarily limited to the upstate counties as areas such as Greenville and Spartanburg recorded some of their driest falls on record. At its peak, 9.7 percent of the state was in extreme drought, for the first time since 2019.

December brought the wet pattern back, and the December 17 coastal storm caused major coastal flooding and a monthly rainfall record.

Charleston also experienced significant coastal flooding issues throughout the year, logging 75 flood events where the tide rose above seven feet, the second most on record. The city also saw six severe flood events where the tide rose above 8 feet.

When it comes to severe weather, South Carolina saw a relatively low number of tornadoes for 2023 -- 17. None of them were rated EF2 or higher. However, seven of those tornadoes took place during two outbreaks in January, evidence of a similar trend to what North Carolina is seeing for severe weather outside the traditional peaking months.

(WATCH: ‘Offset the heat islands’: Finding Charlotte’s hottest spots)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.