WASHINGTON - Storms slamming into the West Coast and moisture marching north in the Atlantic made last year the wettest on record on opposite sides of the country.
For Oregon and Idaho in the West and Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and West Virginia in the East, 1996 recorded the most rain and snow ever. For New York, it was the second wettest, according to new figures from the National Climatic Data Center.
"It's pretty obvious what caused the West to be so wet; it was the prevalent storm track hitting the West Coast, as it's doing right now," William O. Brown of the Asheville, N.C., climate center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Tuesday.
"For the Northeast, he said, the No. 1 cause was the pretty active westerly (wind) flow. It caused storm development in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused the wetness. ... Also, we had an active tropical season."
For the nation as a whole, year-end figures compiled by the Data Center show precipitation averaged 32.32 inches across the country, the fifth wettest year on record. The record is 33.99 inches in 1973.
But it was the all-time wettest year in the Northeast with 51.66 inches, and the Northwest was also a record-setter at 37.85. In a normal year, the Northeast gets 41.63 inches and the Northwest 27.50.
In addition to the record states, those where precipitation put them among their 10 wettest years ever were Washington and California in the West. In the East, other states with years among their 10 wettest were Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The national average temperature last year was 52.3 degrees Fahrenheit, close to the normal of 52.4. Of the 102 years of recordkeeping, 1996 ranks 47th on a scale with 1 the coldest and 102 the hottest.
For the West - California and Nevada - it was the second hottest year on record with an average of 57.3 degrees, trailing only 1934's 57.8. Normal is 55.0. Arizona, New Mexico and Utah also had years ranked among the 10 hottest.
"In the Southwest ... you had a quite persistent high pressure there, especially earlier in the year, and therefore warmer temperatures and less cloud cover. That seemed to change later in the year," Brown said.
In the north-central part of the country, a persistent flow from the northwest caused several states to record temperatures among their 10 coldest for a year, including North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.
The annual summary does not included figures for Alaska and Hawaii, whose weather varies considerably from the 48 contiguous states.
A regional rundown including ranking in which 1 would be coldest or driest and 102 would be warmest or wettest:
Northeast: 52.66 inches of rain, 102; 46.0 degrees, 36; includes New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
East North Central: 31.04 inches, 67; 41.5 degrees, 9; includes Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Central: 47.28 inches, 88; 52.2 degrees, 10; includes Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Southeast: 53.71 inches, 73; 61.9 degrees, 18; includes Virginia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
West North Central: 19.17 inches, 86; 41.4 degrees, 12; includes Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.
South: 33.98 inches, 44; 62.3 degrees, 47; includes Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Southwest: 13.06 inches, 45; 53.8 degrees, 99; includes Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
Northwest: 37.85 inches, 102; 47.1 degrees, 72; includes Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
West: 23.80 inches, 97; 57.3 degrees, 101; includes California and Nevada.