With only a day left in 2011, the year ranks as Beaufort County's fifth warmest in 63 years.
Through Friday, the area's average daily temperature -- daily high plus daily low, divided by two -- was 68 degrees.
Based on daily high temperatures 2011 ranks second, with an average high of 79.7 degrees, according to S.C. climatologist Hope Mizzell.
The highest average was 80.4 degrees in 1990, according to data from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport dating to 1948. (The airport is the closest official weather station to Hilton Head Island and Beaufort.)
Data from the Nation Weather Service in Charleston dating back to 1874, however, puts 2011 in a five-way tie for 11th-warmest on record with 1882, 1922, 1925 and 1998.
"It doesn't look like 2011 was especially noteworthy despite it being the warmest summer on record," wrote meteorologist Steven Taylor in an email.
The warm weather has made for one of the most vibrant winters Amy Spadafora, retail manager of The Greenery on Hilton Head Island, can remember.
Knockout roses and some summer annuals remain in full bloom. Camellias and Daphnes are getting a head start, blooming one to two months earlier than normal, adding a canvas of reds, whites and pinks to a normally drab time of year, Spadafora said.
"This has been the best fall and winter I've noticed," she said. "Things are lasting longer, like the knockout roses, which typically lose their leaves and start to (go dormant) this time of the year. It's been good for business. There's more people in the nursery. Sales are better. Last year was rainy and cold, which was horrible."
December saw an average daily temperature near 56 degrees -- four degrees above average, according to the weather service.
This month's warm weather came on the heels of the hottest June, July and August on record for the area, with an average daily temperature of 84 degrees. That beat the previous summer record set last year by 0.1 degree.
"We've had two years where the summers were extraordinarily warm, but we've had an opposite pattern when you compare the winters -- with last winter being quite cold and this winter being quite warm," Mizzell said.
This year also was unusually dry. The Savannah airport station recorded 35 inches of rain. Average annual rainfall is about 49 inches, according to Mizzell.
The oppressive heat and humidity put the area in an extreme drought for much of the summer.
The National Weather Service expects the next three months to be drier than average, with above-normal wildfire conditions, as La Niña gradually strengthens and continues through the rest of winter. The naturally occurring climate phenomenon creates cooler than normal water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It contributed to extreme weather around the globe during the first half of 2011.
"It changes the storm track for us, pushing it farther north," Mizzell said. "... It doesn't mean you won't see some cold outbreaks. You can have periods of very cold and wet weather, but looking at the big picture, it tends to mean above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead