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

Record Warmth in Eastern U.S.; Temps Tumble in Alaska

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While Alaska continues to to suffer from record cold and snow, much of the rest of the country continues to experience a year without winter.

This week, it's likely that warm temperature records will be broken throughout the eastern U.S., with forecast highs in New York City approaching 60°F on Tuesday and Wednesday, and reaching the mid-60s in Washington, D.C. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), record highs may also be set today in Islip, N.Y., and Bridgeport, CT. 

Satellite image showing thick sea ice and snow cover across Southwestern Alaska. Credit: NASA.

It has also been unusually warm in the mid-section of the country. As Paul Douglas wrote for the Minneapolist Star-Tribune, the Twin Cities missed setting a record high by just four degrees on Monday, topping out at 44°F, about 20°F above average for the date. Douglas wrote that there have been just three subzero nights so far this winter in Minneapolis-St. Paul, down from the average of 19 to date.

"It's been one of the mildest winters on record; at the rate we're going this will easily be a "Top 10 Warmest Winter" in the Twin Cities," Douglas wrote.

The contrast from what Alaska is experiencing is a consequence of the prevailing weather pattern that has set up so far this winter, with high altitude winds preventing Arctic air from spilling down into the continental U.S. for extended periods.

Temperature departures from average during January 2012, showing mild conditions (yellow) in the continental U.S. and unusually cold weather (purple) in Alaska. Credit: NOAA.

Thanks in large part to the interplay of weather patterns in the northern Pacific Ocean and North Atlantic, frigid air has been stuck in the Far North for nearly the entire winter thus far, toppling cold weather records in Alaska. Here are some of the impressive stats from the "Frontier State":

  • Galena reached -65°F on January 29. According to The Weather Channel, there have only been two occasions when temperatures have been colder than that since 1939.
     
  • Fairbanks has been -40°F or colder on at least 16 days this month. Anchorage, along the coast, hasn't been as cold, but this may be the third-coldest January in that city's recorded history.

The Weather Service reported that January 2012 will go down in history as the coldest January on record in several Alaskan communities, particularly those in the western interior part of the state. This will be the coldest January in Galena, Nome and Bettles, the NWS found. In Galena the average temperature through January 30 was -33.5°F.

While the high temperature in Washington is forecast to reach the mid-60s Tuesday, the temperature in Bettles is projected to top out at 45 to 50 below zero, and fall to 60 below zero at night. Ouch.

The all-time coldest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was -80°F in Prospect Creek, AK. According to Weather Underground, that may have been threatened on Jan. 28, when a reading of -79°F was recorded near the same location.

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