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Another Warm Month, But A Cooldown Ahead

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Another month down and another month well above average.  It’s been a never-ending story over the last 5 months as temperatures continue to be very warm with little if any change in sight.  So far for December and January we have seen just a handful of days below average, a few inches of snow or less in most cases, only 3-8 days with temperatures dropping below zero, and the 5th warmest January of all time in the state of South Dakota.  But despite the warm weather across much of the U.S., the rest of the world remains under the grips of record cold with the global average temperatures actually coming in below average for both December and January.  That’s a far cry from what we have seen in the Upper Midwest.  Here is a look back at January for our area and the United States courtesy of NOAA, plus a look at one of the coldest months every recorded in Alaska.

“During January, warmer-than-average conditions enveloped most of the contiguous United States, with widespread below-average precipitation. The overall weather pattern for the month was reflected in the lack of snow for much of the Northern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast. This scenario was in stark contrast to Alaska where several towns had their coldest January on record.

This monthly analysis from NOAA is part of the suite of climate services we provide government, business and community leaders so they can make informed decisions.

The average contiguous U.S. temperature in January was 36.3 degrees F, 5.5 degrees F above the 1901-2000 long-term average -- the fourth warmest January on record, and the warmest since 2006. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 1.85 inches. This was 0.37 inch below the long-term average, with variability between regions.

U.S. Climate Highlights – January 

Warmer-than-average temperatures were widespread across the contiguous United States during January. Nine states – Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming – had January temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. Florida and Washington were the only states with temperatures near average, and no state was cooler than average.

Many locations across the Northern Plains exceeded all-time warm January maximum temperatures records during the month, including Minot, North Dakota, which reached 61 degrees F on January 5th. This surpassed the previous record of 59.0 degrees F for the city, set on January 28th, 1906.

In contrast to the contiguous United States being much warmer than average, several towns across Alaska had their coldest average January temperatures on record -- Nome (-16.6 degrees F), Bethel (-17.3 degrees F) McGrath (-28.5 degrees F), and Bettles (-35.6 degrees F).

Precipitation totals were mixed across the United States during January. The Southern Plains and the Great Lakes were wetter than average for the month, with Texas having above-average precipitation for the second month in a row. Texas had not experienced two consecutive months with above-average precipitation since January-February 2010.

Below-average precipitation was observed for the Central Plains, where Kansas had its third driest January, and Nebraska its eighth. The Southeast was also drier than average, where Florida had its eighth driest January on record. Many locations along Florida’s Atlantic coast, which usually averages over 2.5 inches of precipitation during January, had little to no precipitation during the month.

Cities across the Northern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast had below-average snow fall during the month – a result of warmer and drier than average conditions. According to data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab, the average snow extent during January was 1.0 million square miles, which was 329,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average. This marks the 3rd smallest January snow cover extent in the 46-year period of record.
U.S. Climate Highlights – Winter to Date (December 2011-January 2012)

The first two months of the winter season, December and January, have been much warmer than average for the contiguous United States. The two-month period was the fourth warmest on record with an average temperature 3.8 degrees F above average. Much of the warmth was anchored across the northern and eastern United States. Minnesota was record warm for the period, with an average temperature 10.1 degrees F above average. A total of twenty-two states from Montana to Maine had December-January temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. 

Despite a large winter storm which impacted the western U.S. during January, much of the region was drier than average. California had its fourth driest December-January period, and Montana had its sixth. Wetter-than-average conditions were observed in a string of states from New Mexico to New York, with Texas having its eleventh wettest two-month period.

 U.S. Climate Highlights – Last 12 months (February 2011-January 2012)

The 12-month period, ending in January, was the sixth warmest such period for the contiguous United States, with warmer-than-average temperatures dominating the eastern two-thirds of the nation. Seven states – Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia – were record warm for the period, while an additional 18 states had 12-month temperatures ranking among their ten warmest. Oregon and Washington were the only states with below-average temperatures during the period.

The nationally-averaged precipitation total for the 12-month period was near average, masking regional extremes. The Ohio Valley and Northeast were record wet for the period, with seven states within those regions also being record wet. Dry conditions were present along the southern tier of the nation from New Mexico to South Carolina.”

Despite the warm temperatures recently, it is about to get pretty cold as an arctic front will move through the area late Thursday which will drop temperatures below average and even below zero for some.

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