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Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.

January Warmer and Drier Than Normal; Drought Expands

Feb 13, 2012
Normally I like to try to take a look ahead at the forecast weather. Today, I am going to take a look back. A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms what most of us probably already suspected – January was warm. Very warm. In fact, it was the fourth warmest January on record in the continental United States.
 
Much of the Continental US saw warmer-than-average temperatures during January with much of the warmth concentrated in the central US.  Image credit: NOAA
 
Most of the country saw above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation; resulting in a lack of snowfall for much of the Northern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast. In the contiguous US, the average temperature during the month of January was 36.3 degrees F, 5.5 degrees F above the 1901-2000 long-term average. This makes January 2012 the warmest since 2006. Average precipitation across the country totaled 1.85 inches, or .37 inches below the long-term average.
 
By contrast, Alaska saw several locations record their coldest January on record with many temperatures dipping well below zero. The coldest reported record was Bettles, AK at -35.6 degrees F.
 
No state, with the exception of Alaska, recorded average temperatures below normal. Florida and Washington were the only states with near normal temperatures and nine states – Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming – had temperatures ranking among their ten warmest.
 
Many places across the Northern Plains exceeded their all-time maximum temperatures for the month. NOAA reports Minot, ND recorded a high temperature of 61 degrees F on the 5th, beating the previous record of 59 degrees F, set on January 28, 1906.
 
Precipitation average varied across the US.  Beneficial rains fell in drought-stricken Texas, but below average rainfall across the West allowed the percentage of US in drought conditions to expand.  Image credit: NOAA
 
Precipitation totals across the country were mixed with the Southern Plains and Great Lakes experiencing a wetter-than-average month. Texas saw above-average precipitation for the second consecutive month, the first time since January-February 2010. The Central Plains, however, saw below-average precipitation. Kansas had its third driest January. Much of Florida’s Atlantic Coast had little to no precipitation during January. Normally, that part of the Sunshine State sees more than 2.5 inches of precipitation.
 
The NOAA monthly climate report also cites data from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab which reported the average snow extent across the contiguous US was 1 million square miles, or 329,000 square miles below the 1981-2010.
 
As of January 31, 2012, the US Drought Monitor recorded 3.3% of the US in the most severe category of drought – an exceptional drought. This is about the same percentage as the beginning of the month. However, drought conditions across the US expanded from 31.9% at the beginning of the month to 37.9% at the end of the month. Most of the drought expansion was recorded in the western states and the Upper Midwest.
 
The National temperature average from November 2011 - January 2012 ranks "Much Above Normal".  Image credit: NOAA
 
Overall, the months of December and January during the 2011-2012 winter season were much warmer than average coming in 3.8 degrees F above average – making it the fourth warmest winter so far. Much of the warmth was located across the northern and eastern US. Minnesota came in an astounding 10.1 degrees F above average and 22 states had December-January temperatures ranking among their ten warmest.
 
California recorded its fourth driest December-January period and Montana recorded its sixth. In fact, most of the western US was drier than average during the December-January period. Wetter-than-average conditions prevailed across a number of states stretching from New Mexico to New York.
 
Information used in this blog from:
 
NOAA National Climatic Data Center, State of the Climate: National Overview for January 2012, published online February 2012, retrieved on February 13, 2012 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2012/1.

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