A look at weather extremes and the big-picture climate connections.

No, You Weren’t Hallucinating: January was Really Warm

As it does every month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released U.S. weather stats for the month just ended, and the results will come as a huge shock — if you've been hiding in a subterranean cave, at least. For the rest of us, it's not even a bit surprising that January, 2012 is the fourth warmest January since modern recordkeeping began in the late 1800's.

Here in Princeton, where Climate Central has its headquarters, daffodils are poking up out of the ground more than a month before they usually do; the only significant snowfall we've had was the bizarre preseason storm that struck the Northeast at the end of October; and we've yet to see even one of (usually) inevitable cold snaps where temperatures stay in the teens for days at a stretch.

Graphic credit/NOAA

It's largely the same all across the continental U.S., with only Florida and and the State of Washington registering average temperatures. Everywhere else it was either above normal, or, for a huge swath of the country -- the Midwest, Great Plains, Dakotas and Northern Rockies -- much above normal temperatures. (The story was different in Alaska, where several locations had their coldest January on record, and places like Fairbanks and Nome  have been in danger of running out of fuel oil. Overall, the average temperature in the Lower 48 was 36.3°F, which is 5.5° higher than the average from 1901-2000. 

Average nationwide precipitation was lower than normal too, at 1.85 inches, compared with the expected 2.22 inches. That explains not only Princeton's snow deficit, but a widespread absence of the white stuff all across the nothern half of the nation (again, Alaska doesn't count here, and Hawaii is obviously irrelevant). If it had been played outdoors, last Sunday's Super Bowl in normally-frigid Indianapolis could have been played outdoors, if you take my meaning.

If you want to think about it another way (and who could resist?), the Weather Channel's Guy Walton used data from the National Climatic Data Center to calcuate that there were 19 times as many record highs set in January in the U.S. as record lows. For me, that says it more vividly than pretty much anything else. Except for those daffodils. Can the crabgrass be far behind?

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