Globally, Earth had its fourth warmest January this year since modern temperature record-keeping began in 1880, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In January, the global average temperature – the combined temperature of both land and ocean surfaces – was 54.8°F, or about 1.17°F above the 20th century average of 53.6°F.
At the same time, if you ask anyone living in the eastern half of the United States, they’re likely to tell you this winter has been brutal. This was particularly true in January, when temperatures dipped below -40°F in International Falls, Minn., and many parts of the Deep South reached the single digits.
In a warming world, how can it be so bitterly cold?
Deke Arndt, a scientist at the National Climatic Data Center explains, “We see more evidence that we will continue to have cold air outbreaks as the climate continues to warm. Cold air outbreaks, like the type we saw in January, over time, have become statistically more uncommon.”
Even though it was generally colder than average east of the Continental Divide and in parts of Siberia, it was warmer than average elsewhere.
Take Alaska for example. The Last Frontier is normally frigid this time of year, but looking at the map it’s clear that temperatures were well above average for January.
January's average monthly high temperature for Fairbanks, Alaska is 1.1°F. But the average January high temperature in Fairbanks this year was much higher, at 16.4°F. At one point, the afternoon high temperature in Fairbanks hit 45°F, which was a tie for its sixth warmest January day on record.
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But warming isn’t only evident in Alaska. It was also recorded in South America, Africa, Europe, the Indian Ocean, central Asia, Australia and the western Pacific.
This latest report also makes January 2014 the ninth consecutive time that a month has ranked among the 10 highest for its respective month. It's also the 347th time that a month has been above the 20th century global average temperature.
Given this warmth, some may wonder: What’s ahead for the coming months?
Climate Prediction Center meteorologist Dan Collins says temperatures will potentially be above average from the Pacific Northwest to the Desert Southwest, all the way over to Florida, over the next three months. Alaska is also expected to remain warmer than average through March, April and May.
See the full report at NOAA.
MORE: NASA Satellite Images Show Climate Change
The Ash Creek Fire seen here is one of some 27,000 fires which have destroyed nearly 2 million acres of the western U.S. since the start of 2012. Extremely dry conditions, stiff winds, unusually warm weather, and trees killed by outbreaks of pine bark beetles have provided ideal conditions for the blazes. (Credit: NASA)