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Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow: U.S. Sets Benchmark

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Bitter cold and snow and ice storms have been the mantra for December across much of the U.S. And in fact, the country has seen a larger snowpack this month than at any point in the past decade.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 53 percent of the lower 48 states had some snow cover on Dec. 15. That topped all readings on that date since such records began in 2003.

Snow cover on December 15, 2013 was the largest seen on that date in at least 11 years. 
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NWS via Twitter.

The expansive snow cover stands in stark contrast to some of the milder early winters of recent years, including 2006, when just 12 percent of the lower 48 states were covered in snow on December 15.

An unusual weather pattern that brought bitterly cold Arctic air to the U.S. has been the driving force for the early season snow. It started in late November and has lasted through much of December, all the while sending record-breaking warmth into Alaska.

Snowstorms have painted the nation white since late November, dumping several feet of snow in the Rocky Mountains, and lesser amounts in the Great Plains, the Mississippi River Valley, the Ohio River Valley, Appalachians, and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

In addition to the snow, the U.S. has seen its share of record-cold temperatures, too. With the noteworthy exception of Alaska, nearly every state was affected by the unusually cold air at some point during the November-to-December timeframe, with temperatures dipping down to at least minus-43°F in Montana on Dec. 8, and running 10 to 20°F below average elsewhere.

There has been a sharp imbalance in the number of record high and low temperatures set or tied. In November, for example, the U.S. saw three times as many record cold daily highs and lows as record warm daily highs and lows (2,238 cold temperature records vs.  749 warm records). For the year, daily record lows are likely to outnumber daily record highs in the U.S. for the first time in 20 years.

Globally, November was the warmest such month on record in NASA's dataset, which goes back to 1880.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA.

In November, the continental U.S. had an average monthly temperature that was 0.3°F below the 20th century average, which did not stand out as particularly cold in NOAA’s 119-year instrument record, but was noteworthy considering that most months in the U.S. in recent years have been milder than average. The November snow cover extent across the lower 48 states was the 12th largest in the nearly 50-year period of record, running about 116,000 square miles above average, according to the Rutgers University Snow Lab.

But while the U.S. has shivered through the start to winter, the rest of the world was unusually mild during November. According to NASA, November was the warmest such month on record worldwide since reliable instrument temperature data began being collected in 1880. The top 10 warmest Novembers in NASA’s dataset have all occurred since 2001.

Worldwide, the only areas that were cooler than average during November were parts of North America, including the central and eastern U.S., as well as a small portion of Antarctica. A large area of well above-average temperatures affected Eurasia, with above-average temperatures throughout all of Africa and Australia, as well as the majority of South America.

November continued the planet’s unbroken streak of warmer-than-average months that has lasted since the Ford administration. And with increasing man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, there is no reason to think that streak will end anytime soon.

Related Content
For the First Time in 20 Years, Cold Records May Beat Warm
Arctic Blast Has Half the Lower 48 States in Its Icy Grip
While Most of U.S. Froze, Parts of Alaska Had Record Highs
Snow Cover May Help Usher in Historic Cold to Northwest
New Study Adds to Global Warming, Extreme Weather Debate


By john harkness
on December 17th, 2013

Thanks for this. That last map really puts our local cool weather into context.

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By R Dan Benson (Idaho Falls, ID 83406)
on December 23rd, 2013

Does it bother anyone else that these are “NASA” data figures?  What happened to NOA? the USGS and NSF? last I heard, NASA was deligated to “improving US/Moslem relations” what ever that means. There is just too much overlap in US agencies/departments FAR EXEDING their original mandate! All US agencies/Departments need to be trimmed back to 1980 levels (at least) except the Border Patrol and the Armedd Forces…which have been cut to the pleasure and expansion of nearly every other agency!

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By Jon (Howell, MI)
on December 23rd, 2013

That last map also is set to capture the coldest period of the 20th century as a comparison. If you used the entire 20th century, all of the yellows and some of the light browns would be removed. The earth was warmer in 1930-1950 than it was in 1950-1980.

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By Ronald (Milwaukee, WI 53221)
on December 24th, 2013

I heard that the Antarctic experienced some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded.
Why isn’t much said about this?

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By Phil Valentine (Nashville, TN 37203)
on December 24th, 2013

This is absolutely hilarious.  All this snowfall and you people STILL cling to this silly notion of manmade global warming. Oh, I’m sorry.  It’s now climate change, to fit your agenda.  Many scientists predict we’re going into another Little Ice Age and you folks continue to try to frighten people into believing they’re somehow responsible for change in the climate.  Thanks for the entertainment.

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By nomad (11104)
on January 6th, 2014

You didn’t read the article at all, did you?

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