AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - New U.S. weather data show that the Arctic just finished its warmest winter on record, with plenty of open water where the ocean normally freezes.

Scientists say what's happening is unprecedented, part of a global warming-driven vicious cycle that is likely playing a role in the roughing up of Europe and the U.S. Northeast with strong, icy storms.

Arctic weather stations averaged 8.8 degrees (4.9 degrees Celsius) warmer than normal this past winter.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center said Tuesday the extent of Arctic sea ice in February was less than last year's record low. The difference was an area about the size of the state of Georgia. And it's far smaller than its 30-year average. How much smaller? An area nearly twice the size of Texas.

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