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A cool, snowy January for the globe in 2008

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:25 PM GMT on February 15, 2008

It's been a cool and snowy winter across much of the Northern Hemisphere so far this year, making it pretty unlikely that 2008 will end up ranking as one of the top five warmest years on record. January 2008 was just the 31st warmest January for the the globe on record, according to statistics released by the National Climatic Data Center. For land areas only, January 2008 ranked near average--63rd warmest in the 130 years since global record keeping began in 1880. It was the coldest January since 1982, and marked a noticeable departure from the string of much warmer than average months the globe has experienced over the past eight years. A good portion of the global cool down in January can be credited to the current strong La Niña episode. Ocean surface temperatures in large areas of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific were more than 3°F (1.7°C) below average in January. The continuation of cooler-than-average temperatures dampened the global ocean average, which was the 17th warmest on record for January. The last time the globe was this cold was in November of 2000. Not coincidentally, that month marked the peak of the last major La Niña episode, as defined by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Figure 1. Northern Hemisphere snow cover set a new record for January, narrowly besting the record set in 1985. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center.

The extent of January snow cover in 2008 was the greatest on record for the Northern Hemisphere, narrowly besting the record set in 1985. Snow cover records extend back to 1967. Much of the record snow cover can be attributed to the cold and snowy weather experienced in China and southern Asia. However, Australia experienced its warmest January on record, and much of northern Russia had temperatures more than 5°C (9°F) above average in January.

U.S. temperatures: below average in January
For the contiguous U.S., January 2008 was 0.3°F (0.2°C) below average, and was the 49th coolest January since U.S. weather records began in 1895. It was the coldest January in the U.S. since 2003. January 2008 temperatures across much of the western U.S. were below normal, with near-normal temperatures across the Midwest, South, and Southeast regions. In contrast to the rest of the country, temperatures were above normal in the Northeast, which had its 20th warmest January on record.

Sea ice extent
January 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the fifth lowest on record for the month of January, 8% below its extent in 1979 when satellite measurements began, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. January was the third straight month that a new monthly minimum Arctic sea ice record was not set, following a string of five months in a row where monthly records were set. However, while the ice extent is not at a record low this month, the volume of the arctic ice is probably at a record low for January. The ice is exceptionally thin across the Arctic this winter, and the edge of this thin first-year ice extends all the way to the North Pole. The latest sea ice extent map and temperature anomaly map for the globe are available at our Climate Change web page, which we update each month.

Severe weather in Texas Saturday
If you live in Texas, keep a wary weather eye on Saturday. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed a portion of Eastern Texas, including Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, under its Moderate Risk region for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.