January 2014: Earth's 4th Warmest January on Record

Published: 1:34 PM GMT on February 24, 2014

January 2014 was the globe's 4th warmest January since records began in 1880, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and NASA. January 2013 global land temperatures were the 4th warmest on record, and global ocean temperatures were the 7th warmest on record. In the Southern Hemisphere, land temperatures were the warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in January 2013 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were 9th or 6th warmest in the 36-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively. Northern Hemisphere January snow cover was the 10th lowest in the 48-year record.

Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for January 2014, the 4th warmest January for the globe since record keeping began in 1880. All-time record warmth was observed over portions of Greenland, Brazil, and Central and Southern Africa. Much cooler than average temperatures were observed over portions of the eastern half of the U.S. and Northern Siberia. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .

One billion-dollar weather disaster in January 2014
One billion-dollar weather-related disaster hit the Earth during January 2014, according to the January 2014 Catastrophe Report from insurance broker Aon Benfield: the cold wave and winter weather associated with the Midwest and Eastern U.S. "Polar Vortex" episode of January 5 - 8, 2014, which cost an estimated $3 billion. Damage estimates from the ongoing extreme drought in California are not yet available, though the California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group, estimates that lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion.

Figure 2. The cold wave and winter weather associated with the Midwest and Eastern U.S. "Polar Vortex" episode of January 5 - 8, 2014, cost an estimated $3 billion. In this picture, we see snow shovelers take a break in South Haven, Michigan after an epic lake effect snowstorm buried the city on January 8, 2014. Image credit: Wunderphotographer nanamac.

An extremely wet January in the UK; extreme dryness in Norway
An unusually wavy jet stream over Europe in January 2014 brought remarkable wet and dry extremes. Radcliffe Meteorological Station at Oxford University in the U.K. measured 146.9 mm (5.78”) of precipitation in January 2014, the wettest winter month ever observed there since records began in 1767. As wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt writes, this is one of the longest periods of record for precipitation in the world. In Ireland, Valentia Observatory has seen rain every day but one since December 22--an astounding 64 of the past 65 days. Parts of Norway had their driest January ever, with no precipitation at all at several locations, e.g.: Bodø, Narvik, Harstad, Tysfjord, Fauske. The record dry conditions sparked January wildfires that destroyed over 200 buildings, a highly unusual occurrence for January in Norway.

Figure 3. One piece of good news: preliminary measurements from the CryoSat satellite show that the volume of Arctic sea ice in autumn 2013 was about 50% higher than in the autumn of 2012: 9,000 cubic kilometers vs. 6,000 cubic kilometers. About 90% of the increase in volume between the two years was due to the retention of thick, multiyear ice around Northern Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. However, this apparent recovery in ice volume should be considered in a long-term context. It is estimated that in the early 1980s, October ice volume was around 20,000 cubic kilometers, meaning that more than half of the polar ice has been lost in the past 30 years. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Arctic sea ice falls to 4th lowest January extent on record
Arctic sea ice extent during January was 4th lowest in the 36-year satellite record, and was very similar to the January extents measured in 2013 and 2012, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Sea ice extent so far during February has been tracking near or below the all-time record low levels for this time of year set in 2012, according to data from the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today. This is due, in part, to a large surge of warm air that pushed into the Arctic in late January and early February, which has kept the Arctic 5 - 15°C (9 - 27°F) warmer than average since January 25, according to data from Danish Meteorological Institute. Greenland temperatures were more than 5°C above average for a month beginning in the second week of January 2014, and "the snowpack heating the abnormal warmth increase the likelihood of an earlier melt onset and above average Greenland melting this coming summer," says Greenland expert Dr. Jason Box in his http://darksnow.org/ blog.

Thanks go to Maximiliano Herrera and Michael Thuesner for the Europe weather information. Wunderground's weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has a comprehensive post on the notable weather events of January 2014 in his January 2014 Global Weather Extremes Summary.

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I'll have a new post by Wednesday at the latest.

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.