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January 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: Christopher C. Burt , 10:05 PM GMT on February 07, 2013

January 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary

January was notable for extreme heat, wild fires, and floods in Australia, record heat in southern Africa and Patagonia while a cold wave was endured in India and China. The U.S. saw a massive tornado outbreak and record warm temperatures ahead of the system that spawned the severe weather.

Below are some of the month’s highlights.


A massive early season severe weather outbreak spawned at least 55 tornadoes from Oklahoma to Georgia on January 29-30th killing at least two and destroying hundreds of homes. The complex storm system also ushered in the coldest air of the season (temperatures fell to -42°F/-41.1°C in Embarrass, Minnesota) and heavy snowfall over Iowa and Wisconsin. Ahead of the front, several all-time record monthly high temperatures were reported. See my recent blog for more details. Most notably, Laredo, Texas heated up to 94°F (34.4°C) on January 28th breaking its previous monthly record of 93°F (33.9°C) set on January 3, 1971. The all-time Texas state heat record is 98°F (36.7°C) set at Zapata in January 1997. A bit further south the temperature soared to an amazing 39.4°C (103°F) at Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas State, Mexico about 200 miles south of Laredo.

The EF-3 strength Adairsville, Georgia tornado resulted in two fatalities near the town. These were the first tornado-related deaths to occur in the U.S. in 219 days, the longest stretch of no deaths due to tornadoes in U.S. records. Photo by wunderground weather user fshelton25, taken on I-75 near Adairsville on January 30th.

The intermountain West endured one of its coldest January’s on record when a stagnant high-pressure system settled in over the Great Basin and persisted for most of the month. Air quality in Salt Lake City reached critical levels for several days. Grand Junction, Colorado averaged just 14.3°F (-9.8°C) for the month, some -13.1°F (-7.3°C) below normal. It also endured 19 days with minimums of 0°F or lower, a record for such. Moab, Utah (famous as the location of Arches National Monument) averaged 8.6°F (-13.0°C) for the month, -18.4°F (-10.2°C) below normal and smashing its previous all-time coldest month on record which was 14.4°F (-9.8°C) in January 1973. The same high pressure system responsible for the cold and smog in Utah was responsible for blocking Pacific storms from the California coast and San Francisco endured its 3rd driest January on record with only .49” (12 mm) fell (normal rainfall for the month is around 4.2”/107 mm).

The lowest temperature reported in the northern hemisphere and the world during the month was -61.2°C (-78.2°F) at Summit, Greenland on January 1st.


The intense heat waves the gripped Brazil and Argentina during December became more concentrated over the Patagonia district of Argentina and into Chile as well. Santiago, Chile reached 36°C (96.8°F) on January 9th, just 1.2°C (2.2°F) shy of the city’s all-time record high of 37.2°C (99°F).


It was a cold and snowy month in Scandinavia and mild and dry one in the Hispanic Peninsula. On January 31st daily record highs of 25.5°C (77.9°F) were set at Valencia and 25.6°C (78.1°F) at Murcia.

The U.K. Met Office is running late posting their January summary. I will update this blog when I get the summary.


An extraordinary and prolonged heat wave has gripped South Africa and Namibia for almost the entire past two months. Not a drop of rain fell at Vioolsdrif, South Africa during January and the temperature peaked at an amazing 48.4°C (119.1°F) there on January 16th. This was very close to the hottest (indisputable) temperature ever measured in South Africa which was 48.8°C (119.8°F) also at Vioolsdrif in January 1993 (there are other hotter but disputed temperature reports from South Africa’s past).

The warmest temperature measured in the northern hemisphere during the month of January was 42.5°C (108.5°F) at Bokoro, Chad on January 24th.


Jerusalem enjoyed its biggest snowstorm in 20 years when 20cm (8”) fell in the city center and 30 cm (12” at Safed in the northern Galilee region on January 10-11.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walk along the Old City walls of Jerusalem during the 20 cm (8”) snowfall that blanketed the city on January 10th. Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA.

On the other side of the Asian continent, Tokyo reported its heaviest snowfall in 7 years when 7-8 cm (3.1”) accumulated on January 14th. However, the biggest weather-related news story in Asia from this past January was the crippling smog events in Beijing and Shanghai, China. A cold stagnant air mass trapped coal smoke and other particle pollutants over the two cities for days and weeks on end. In Beijing the situation reached crisis proportions when what is considered the most hazardous pollutant particle, PM2.5,reached concentrations of 1000 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization (WHO) deems any concentration above 25 to be hazardous! The smog became so thick that the Beijing Airport was forced to close and factories were shut down. Popular outcry over the situation has forced the Chinese government to address the air pollution issue for the first time as a ‘national threat’.

Thick smog dropped visibility to near zero for many days in Beijing this past January. Here, residents practice Tai Chi in Tiananmen Square on January 25th. Photographer unknown, image from Japan Times.

Also in China, heavy rains and melting snow caused a deadly landslide in Zhaojiagou village in the southern province of Yunnan on January 11-12. At least 46 people perished.

The cold wave that began in northern India and Bangladesh last December continued into January. Temperature averages were the coldest in northern India since December 1973 and in Bangladesh since January 1964.


The biggest weather story in the world this past January was the amazing heat wave that engulfed Australia. As a special statement issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology put it;

"An exceptionally extensive and long-lived heat wave affected large portions of Australia in late December 2012 and the first weeks of January 2013. Whilst the heat was most extreme and persistent in the central and southern interior of the continent, most of Australia experienced extreme heat at some stage during the event.

The recent heat was notable for the extent, with records set in every State and Territory, and the nationally averaged daily temperature rose to levels never previously observed, and did this for an extended period. The heat wave was a major factor in January 2013 being the hottest month on record for Australia."

Virtually all of Australia averaged above normal temperatures during January with a wide area reporting their warmest such month on record. Map courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The hottest temperature observed anywhere in the country during the month was 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Moomba on January 12th. This was just 1.1°C short of Australia’s all-time heat record of 50.7°C at Oodnadatta on January 2, 1960 and was the hottest temperature measured in the world during this past January. All-time heat records were broken in Sydney (45.8°C/114.4°F) and Hobart, Tasmania (41.8°C/107.2°F)among many others. Sydney Airport got even warmer with a 46.4°C (115.5°F) reading.

This map shows the highest reported temperatures for the period of December 25, 2012 to January 18, 2013. Note the incredible coverage of 45°C+ (113°F+) temperatures. Map courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The intense heat led to some catastrophic wild fires, especially in southern Tasmania, where over 100 homes were lost to the flames. Fortunately, no fatalities were reported.

As if the heat and fires were not enough, a massive flood event took place in portions of northern New South Wales and Queensland when ex-tropical storm Oswald brought flooding rains to the region between January 25-27. Storm totals over 400 mm (15”) were common with some areas receiving as much as 700 mm (27”). A two-day fall of 965 mm (37.99”) was reported at Boolaroo Tops, Queensland on January 26-27. The greatest calendar day total was 556.8 mm (21.92”) at Pacific Heights, Queensland on January 25th although a 24-hour total of 744 mm (29.29”) was measured at Upper Springbrook, Queensland on January 27-28. Gladstone had a 4-day total of 819.8 mm (32.28”), more than its previous wettest month on record and also more than the town received during the entire years of 2011 or 2012! Needless to say, major flooding occurred in the affected regions and thousands of people were forced to evacuate, many in dramatic helicopter rescues.

Map of precipitation deciles for the month of January. Ex-tropical storm Oswald brought record-breaking rainfalls to southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales. Map courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The coldest temperature measured in Australia during January was -5.3°C (22.5°F) at Mount Wellington, Tasmania on January 9th.


It was a very dry month for the upper portion of the North Island where Tauranga, for instance, received only 4 mm/0.16” (5% of normal) precipitation for the entire month. Conversely, precipitation was 200% of normal for much of the South Island. The greatest calendar day rainfall was 346 mm (13.62”) at Mount Cook, South Island on January 9th (a monthly record) and 1018 mm (40.08”) fell for the monthly total. The warmest temperature observed in New Zealand during January was 35.1°C (95.2°F) at Clyde, South Island on January 5th and the coldest -0.5°C (31.1°F) at Hanmer Forest, South Island on January 18th.


The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere during January was -47.1°C (-58.8°F) recorded at Concordia station on January 24th.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes and Jeremy Budd and NIWA for New Zealand data.

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

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Weather Extremes

About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.