By Lauren Morello
January was warmer and wetter than average in the contiguous U.S., despite the persistent drought in the nation's heartland, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.
The average temperature in the lower 48 states reached 32.0°F last month. At 1.6°F above the 20th century average, January 2013 ties 1958 as the 39th-warmest January on record.
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That was still warm enough to make February 2012-to-January 2013 the warmest February-to-January period since record-keeping began in 1880, NOAA said in its monthly State of the Climate report.
The lower 48 states were slightly wetter than usual, with an average of 2.36 inches falling in January, 0.14 inch above the long-term average. But that average figure masks a sharp divide between the eastern and western halves of the country.
The West Coast, the central Rockies and portions of the Northern Plains, Southeast and Northeast were drier than normal, NOAA said. California, Connecticut and Florida each recorded one of its 10 driest Januarys.
But much of the East Coast was wetter than average last month, from the Southern Plains through the Mid-Atlantic states. Stormy conditions in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Michigan and Virginia produced one of the 10 wettest Januarys ever in each of those states.
The total area covered by moderate-to-exceptional drought shrank 3.4 percentage points, to 57.l percent of the contiguous U.S., according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The affected area included much of the Southeast, Great Plains and Mountain West.
Snow cover extent in the lower 48 states was slightly above-average last month, reaching 1.4 million square miles. In a broad swath of the Western U.S., mountain snowpack was “near-average,” NOAA said, with the exception of the drought-stricken Central and Southern Rockies, where it was much below average.