(CNN)As parts of the West and Northern US face a winter storm with blizzard conditions and significant snowfall, much of the rest of the country is experiencing a summer-like heat that has never been felt before during the month of February.
More than 130 cities from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes could set new records for daily and monthly high temperatures this week. Highs will climb up to 80 degrees as far north as Ohio and West Virginia — certainly unusual, but becoming less so in the warming climate.
Here's a stark example: Before this decade, Charleston, West Virginia, had only hit 80 degrees before March three times in more than 100 years of record-keeping. But this week's incredible warmth will mean that four of the last six years will have logged temperatures of 80 degrees, which is its normal high on June 1, in February.
Record warmth in February — a time that's supposed to still feel like winter — might not sound like such a bad thing, but its negative consequences spread across the plant world, sports, tourism and agriculture. And it is another clear sign that our planet is warming rapidly, experts say.
"Whenever we get these events, we should always be thinking there's the possibility or likelihood that human-induced climate change is increasing the likelihood of strange weather," Richard Seager, climate researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, told CNN. "The more it goes on, the more they can bring such tremendous damage."
Deadly thin ice
On the Great Lakes, ice coverage reached a record low for this time of the year — the same time that the annual maximum extent of ice usually occurs. As of last week, only 7% of the five freshwater lakes were covered in ice, a sharp difference from the 35 to 40% ice cover typically expected in mid-to-late February, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Great Lakes ice is on a downward trend, NOAA scientists report. A recent study found a 70% decline in the lakes' ice cover between 1973 and 2017.
The decline in Great Lakes ice each winter may not seem like it has any harmful impact, but that ice acts as a buffer for large, wind-driven waves in the winter, scientists have reported. Without the ice, the coastlines are more susceptible to erosion and flooding.
Ayumi Fujisaki-Manome, a research scientist at NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan, said low ice coverage could also set the stage for another severe lake-effect snow storm like the one Buffalo, New York, experienced in December.
"The moisture and heat from the lake surface water are absorbed into the atmosphere by storm systems, and then fall back to the ground as snow in the winter," Fujisaki-Manome said in a statement.
The thin ice has already had deadly consequences in New England.
At Vermont's Lake Champlain, the annual ice fishing tournament was