U.S. gets unusually boring January weather; Thursday storm to ease Midwest drought

By Dr. Jeff Masters
Share
Published: 9:59 PM GMT on February 16, 2013

After an unusually intense period of extreme weather during 2011 and 2012, the U.S. had its quietest month in nearly two years during January 2013, according to NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI). The index tracks the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% and bottom-10% extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought. The CEI during January 2013 was 14%, which was the lowest since the 12% value during February 2011. On average, about 20% of the contiguous U.S. experiences top-10% extreme weather as defined by the CEI. In 2012, just two months (October and February) had below-average CEI, so the weather of January 2013 was a welcome relief from our recent "new normal" of increased extreme weather. Of course, the month wasn't completely without notable weather--the tornado outbreak of January 29 - 30 generated 57 tornadoes, the second largest January tornado outbreak on record. January 2013 ranked as the 39th warmest January since 1895, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in their latest State of the Climate report. Utah and Nevada had a top-ten coldest January; no states had a top-ten warmest January. The January warmth was enough to make the 12-month period ending in January 2013 the warmest such period for the contiguous U.S., with every state being warmer than average. Sixteen states, across the central U.S. and Northeast, were record warm, and 27 additional states were top ten warm.


Figure 1. Historical temperature ranking for the U.S. for January 2013. Utah and Nevada had a top-ten coldest January, and no states had a top-ten warmest January. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

Drought conditions improve slightly; wetter weather on the way to Midwest drought region
January 2013 had slightly above-average precipitation over the contiguous U.S., but there were notable wet and dry extremes. Louisiana had its wettest January on record, and Michigan, Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi all had top-ten wettest January weather. Florida, California, and Connecticut all had top-ten driest January weather. Heavy rains in Alabama and Georgia helped give that region no areas of exceptional drought for the first time since January 10, 2012. However, the core of the drought area over the Midwest U.S. shrank only slightly, with the area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought going from 61% on January 1 to 56% on February 12. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, issued February 7, calls for new areas of drought to develop over Florida, Texas, and California. However, some improvement in drought conditions is expected over about 40% of the drought region by April 30. The latest forecasts from the GFS and European (ECMWF) model show a modest shift in the jet stream pattern during the remainder of February, which may allow more moisture-bearing low pressure systems to pass through the main portion of the Midwest drought region. One storm for sure will arrive on Thursday, and many areas of the drought region should enjoy their their wettest day in months.


Figure 2. Drought conditions as of February 12, 2013, showed that 56% of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate or greater drought. Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.


Figure 3. Predicted precipitation for the 7-day period ending Saturday, February 23 at 7 pm EST. Almost the entire nation is expected to get precipitation, including the core of the drought region. Image credit: NOAA/HPC.

Forward on Climate rally on February 17th in Washington, D.C. 
On Sunday, February 17, at noon EST, what is expected to be the largest climate rally in history will take place in Washington D.C. The rally is a project of the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip Hop Caucus. The organizers mustered 15,000 protesters last year in D.C. to protest the potential approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline (meant to bring oil from Canada's tar sands into the U.S.) Protesting the potential approval of the pipeline will be a major focus of Sunday's rally, as well. More broadly, the rally aims to put pressure on President Obama to make good on the promises he made during Tuesday's State of the Union Address:

"But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late….But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will."

It's about time that the President began talking about the reality of our changing climate, and the need to pursue aggressive actions to combat human-caused climate change. January 2013 was a welcome relief from the intense stretch of extreme weather our nation has suffered over the past two years. But the extreme weather of 2011 - 2012 is going to be more typical of our "new normal" of weather during the coming decades. Earth's climate is warming, and the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activity is the main cause. Extreme weather events are increasing in response to the warming climate. People can take cost-effective actions to limit the damage, and our lawmakers are going to come under increasing pressure from grass-roots efforts like the Forward on Climate rally to act to slow down climate change.

I'll have a new post on Tuesday.

Jeff Masters

Comments (926) Permalink
About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Recent Articles

U.S. gets unusually boring January weather; Thursday storm to ease Midwest drought

After an unusually intense period of extreme weather during 2011 and 2012, the U.S. had its quietest month in nearly two years during January 2013, according to NOAA's U.S. Climate Extremes Index (CEI). The index tracks the percentage area of the contiguous U.S. experiencing top-10% and bottom-10% extremes in temperature, precipitation, and drought. The CEI during January 2013 was 14%, which was the lowest since the 12% value during February 2011. On average, about ...

Read Article - Comments (926)

Previous Entries