By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - If you liked the balmy weather that dominated on the U.S. East Coast and much of the South this winter, you will probably enjoy the spring of 2017, too.
The new season, which officially begins on Monday, should bring more of the same in both regions, forecasters say, though for the East, a final twist of winter weirdness will have to play out before the region basks in the warmth again.
Spring, which starts with the vernal equinox at 6:28 a.m. EDT on Monday, will begin warmly but Wednesday's temperatures are predicted to plunge into the 20s (-1 to -6 Celsius) and teens in the U.S. Northeast, with a snowstorm possible in the Midwest, according to Accuweather.com.
After the warmest February on record in New York City and other parts of the Northeast, winter returned with a vengeance last week with a paralyzing snowstorm and sustained stretch of sub-freezing temperatures.
"That was our three days of winter," said Jon Gottschalck, chief forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In New York, where pedestrians are still navigating deep piles of snow and ice, the mercury was expected to dip below the freezing mark overnight and then climb to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) on the first day of spring.
"Hang tight, bear with it, because our forecast for spring is above-average temperatures," Gottschalck said.
That may come as cold comfort for the nation's capital. Last week's cold snap annihilated half of the pink-and-white cherry blossoms that typically draw 1.5 million tourists to Washington in early April. Lured to an early bloom by historic warmth, they were dangerously exposed, said National Park Service officials, who soldiered on with a festival celebrating survivors expected to reach peak bloom around March 25.
While the East Coast luxuriated in the mild temperatures, and Texas and Louisiana had the warmest winter in more than a century, the West Coast enjoyed a welcome stretch of wet weather after years of drought.
Nevada and Wyoming set records for precipitation, while California had the second wettest winter in the 123 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
Temperatures for April, May and June were expected to be above normal in the Southern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley and the East Coast, said NOAA meteorologist Dan Petersen. For the West Coast, the long-range forecast was still unclear.
But NOAA is calling for a wetter-than-normal spring on the Gulf Coast and in the Northern Plains, where above-average snowfall in North Dakota and Idaho could trigger flooding.
On the final day of winter, almost 110,000 animal lovers worldwide remained glued to a YouTube streaming video of a pregnant giraffe named "April," who is overdue to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York.
Much more of a wait may mean a spring birth amid winter temperatures.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)