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January global temperatures 11th - 17th warmest on record

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:14 PM GMT on February 18, 2011

January 2011 was the globe's 17th warmest January on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated January the 11th warmest on record. January 2011 global ocean temperatures were the 11th warmest on record, and land temperatures were the 29th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were average,the 16th or 17th coolest in the 34-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH). The global cool-down from November, which was the warmest November on record for the globe, was due in large part to the on-going moderate strength La Niña episode in the Eastern Pacific. The large amount of cold water that upwells to the surface during a La Niña typically causes a substantial cool-down in global temperatures. Notably, the January 2011 global ocean temperature was the warmest on record among all Januaries when La Niña was present. The ten warmest Januaries occurred during either El Niño or neutral conditions.

FIgure 1. Departure of temperature from average for January 2011. Image credit: National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).

The coldest places on the globe in January, relative to average, were Mongolia, Southern Siberia, and China. China recorded its coldest January since 1977, and second coldest January since national records began in 1961. Record or near-record warm conditions were experienced in Northeast Canada, Western Greenland and Northern Siberia.

A cold and dry January for the U.S.
For the contiguous U.S., January temperatures were the 37th coldest in the 116-year record, and it was the coldest January since 1994, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Despite the heavy snows in the Northeast U.S., January was the 9th driest January since 1895. This was largely due to the fact that the Desert Southwest was very dry, with New Mexico recording its driest January, and Arizona and Nevada their second driest.

Sea ice extent in the Arctic lowest on record during January
January 2011 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent was the lowest on record in January, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This was the second consecutive month of record low extent. Satellite records extend back to 1979. The area of missing ice was about twice the size of Texas, or 60% the size of the Mediterranean Sea. Ice was notably absent in Northeast Canada and Western Greenland, and Hudson Bay did not freeze over until mid-January, more than a month later than usual. This was the latest freeze-up on record, and led to record warmth over much of Northeast Canada. Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island had its warmest January on record, 1.1°C above the previous record set in 1985. Weather records for the station go back to 1942.

An incredible 110° temperature swing in 1 week in Oklahoma
The temperature in Bartlesville, Oklahoma shot up to a record 82°F yesterday, just seven days after the city hit -28°F on February 10. This 110°F temperature change has to be one of the greatest 1-week temperature swings in U.S. history. The -31°F that was recorded in nearby Nowata last week has now been certified by the National Weather Service as the new official all-time coldest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma. What's more, the 27 inches of snow that fell on Spavinaw, Oklahoma during the February 8 - 9 snowstorm set a new official state 24-hour snowfall record. The previous record was 26", set on March 28, 2009, in Woodward and Freedom.

A 100+ degree temperature change in just six days is a phenomenally rare event. I checked the records for over twenty major cities in the Midwest in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, and could not find any examples of a 100-degree temperature swing in so short a period of time. The closest I came was a 108° swing in temperature in fourteen days at Valentine, Nebraska, from -27°F on March 11, 1998 to 82°F on March 25, 1998. Valentine also had a 105°F temperature swing in fifteen days from November 29, 1901 (71°F) to December 14, 1901 (-34°F.) Our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, lists the world record for fastest 24-hour change in temperature as the 103°F warm-up from -54° to 49° that occurred on January 14 - 15, 1972, during a chinook wind in Lowe, Montana. This week's remarkable roller coaster ride of temperatures in Oklahoma is truly a remarkable event that has few parallels in recorded history.

Tropical Cyclone Carlos' deluge abates
Darwin, Australia suffered its greatest 24-hour rainfall in its history on Wednesday, when a deluge of 13.4 inches (339.4 mm) hit the city when Tropical Cyclone Carlos formed virtually on top of city and remained nearly stationary. Carlos has now dissipated, and brought only an additional 1.50" (38 mm) of rain yesterday to Darwin. Over the past four days, Carlos has dumped a remarkable 26.87" (682.6 mm) of rain on Darwin (population 125,000), capital of Australia's Northern Territory. Australia's west coast is also watching Tropical Cyclone Dianne, which is expected to remain well offshore as it moves southwards, parallel to the coast.

Figure 2. Solar flare of February 15, 2011, as captured by the SOHO and SDO spacecraft. Image credit: NASA.

Space weather: biggest solar flare in 4 years
The strongest solar flare in more than four years erupted on the sun at 0156 UTC on Tuesday, when giant sunspot 1158 unleashed an X2-class eruption. X-class flares are the strongest type of x-ray flare, and this week's flare is the first X-class flare of the new 11-year sunspot cycle 24, which began in 2009 - 2010. The flare was accompanied by a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which means that a portion of the sun's atmosphere was ripped away and thrown into space. High-energy particles from the CME arrived at Earth at 01 UTC this morning, and sky watchers at high northern latitudes may be able to see auroras over the coming few nights. Consult NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center or spaceweather.com for updates.

Jeff Masters

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