published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Chattanooga winter featured high temperatures and tourism

Two people venture into the waters of Chickamauga Lake inside Chester Frost Park on Wednesday.
Two people venture into the waters of Chickamauga Lake inside Chester Frost Park on Wednesday.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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This year's unseasonably warm winter can officially be counted among Chattanooga's hottest, according to the National Weather Service.

Wednesday set another record high, with temperatures reaching 83 degrees in Chattanooga. The old record of 81 degrees was set in 1990.

From December to February, the area maintained an average temperature of 46.8 degrees -- 4.4 degrees warmer than usual, placing it in the hottest 10 percent of winters since the NWS began collecting data on the city in 1870.

February featured an average daily high of 59.4 degrees, and Feb. 23 set a record daily high at 78 degrees.

Tourists responded to the pleasant weather, and several local attractions reported attendance increases. Rock City saw up to 50 percent more monthly visitors than last winter, according to marketing director Karen Baker. She also said that Ruby Falls monthly attendance was up 16 to 30 percent. Cindy Todd with the Tennessee Aquarium reported that the aquarium had a 20 percent increase from November to February compared to last winter.

"We had a really, really strong January," noted Dave Santucci, vice president of marketing at the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "At a time when the town is usually slow, we were relatively busy. The weather, I'm sure, was a factor. We're such a walkable city."

Santucci explained that factoring in the whole sector, Chattanooga tourism was up 10 percent over last year's January and February.

"Yes, we've had more out-of-town visitors, but locals got out more, too," he said.

But Todd was quick to note that Chattanooga has more going for it than clear skies.

"If your destination is appealing and you have good reviews on Trip Advisor and the weather's nice and there's high consumer confidence, it's a beautiful thing," she said of the successful combination.

Both weather and tourism are expected to remain good. WRCB-TV chief meteorologist Paul Barys said that today's temperature could exceed 82 degrees -- the daily record.

Shawn O'Neil at the NWS's Morristown office said that he expects the second half of March to resemble the first.

"We're leaning to a neutral pattern," he noted.

But according to Barys, April could be a different story. He noted that it's too early to forecast next month's weather but added that in previous years with mild winters, April is sometimes abnormally cold. He said that the weather is likely to be extreme, though he couldn't say if it will be extremely nice or extremely nasty.

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