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8 Unusual Things We've Seen in the Weather Across the U.S. in January
Published: January 31, 2018
The weather pattern for the first month of 2018 brought some unusual and interesting weather occurrences to many parts of the U.S.
Here are eight noteworthy weather events that happened in January.
1. Record Cold in East
An outbreak of arctic cold engulfed much of the East at the start of 2018. This was due to a southward dip in the jet stream.
The result was the coldest first week of January on record for numerous cities from the South to the Northeast, according to data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center (SERCC). This list included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Baltimore, Raleigh, Savannah and Tallahassee.
New York City smashed the previous record of 21.4 degrees for the first seven days of the year with an average temperature of just 16.4 degrees. Farther south, New Orleans tied the record for the coldest first week of the year with an average temperature of 39.6 degrees.
Daily record low and record cold high temperatures were also set from late December through the first week of January.
2. Snow Covered the Ground in Parts of All 50 States
Winter Storm Inga brought snow and sleet to parts of the East and South on Jan. 17, adding to the snow cover that was already in place across much of the U.S.
The light snow that fell in parts of the northwestern Florida Panhandle from Inga resulted in snow covering the ground in all 50 states Jan. 17 into early Jan. 18.
Yes, snow was also on the ground in Hawaii, on top of the Big Island's volcanic peaks. It is fairly rare to have snow on the ground in all 50 states at the same time. The last time this occurred was Feb. 12, 2010.
3. Ice Jams in the Northeast
After the bitterly cold start to the month, a January thaw developed. Temperatures were above average from the Plains to the East with highs in the 50s as far north as the southern Great Lakes and northern New England.
While many enjoyed the milder temperatures, there were negative impacts. Due to the prolonged period of cold conditions, ice had developed on rivers and the ground was frozen in the Midwest and Northeast.
The warmer temperatures caused significant snowmelt and Winter Storm Hunter brought more than 2 inches of rainfall to parts of the Northeast. This combination resulted in flooding and ice jams.
Ice jams are more common in the spring than in January as they typically occur when ice on the rivers begin to thaw into big chunks and due to rainfall and/or melting snow, the ice begins to move. The pieces of ice can get stuck and pile up near bridges and river bends, causing the river to overspill its banks.
This is exactly what was observed in several rivers in the Northeast. The U.S. Coast Guard was even called to break up the ice in the Connecticut River.
4. Record Warmth Across the West
The jet stream pattern that brought the colder-than-average conditions to the Eastern U.S. featured a northward bulge in the jet stream over the West. This upper-level pattern had the opposite effect in the West, with warmer-than-average temperatures dominated the region.
Two locations with a period of record of at least 60 years are on track to experience the warmest January on record, Tucson, Arizona and Long Beach California, based on data from the SERCC through Jan. 29.
(Data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center)
Several cities will likely see a top-5 warmest January including, Portland, Oregon, Reno, Nevada, San Jose, California Fresno, California, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
Numerous daily record highs have also been set and this pattern is expected to persist into February.
5. Snowfall Lacking in Parts of the West
The ridge of high pressure over the West that brought the record warmth has also resulted in a lack of snowfall in portions of the region.
Much of the northern Cascades and the northern Rockies have seen near-to-above average snowfall so far this season. This is due to the storm track, which shifted northward into the Pacific Northwest and then into the Rockies around the ridge of high pressure.
(USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center)
This storm track has left areas from Oregon and California into Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico with below-average snowfall. In addition, with some of the storms that have tracked farther south, temperatures were warmer-than-average meaning snow only fell in the highest elevations.
The map above shows the snow water equivalent compared to the 1981-2010 average as of Jan. 31. Areas in red indicate where less than half of the snow water equivalent compared to average is in place and where snow is most needed.
Snowfall is important as the melting snow in the spring and summer helps to supply water to the region.
6. Record Dry Conditions, Drought Expanding
Rainfall has been lacking across the southern tier of the U.S. and drought conditions have grown as a result.
This is not that unusual during a La Niña winter, which is what has been in place this year. La Niña refers to the periodic cooling of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean waters, which can influence weather pattern across the globe.
(U.S. Drought Monitor)
Several cities have seen no precipitation in January and have tied for the driest January on record including, Amarillo, Texas, Lubbock, Texas, Clayton, New Mexico and Del Rio, Texas.
Amarillo has even set a record for longest stretch without measurable rainfall (0.01 inches or greater). As of Jan. 30, it has been 109 days since the last measurable rainfall, shattering the previous record of 75 days set in 1957.
Through Jan. 29, Huntsville, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee are experiencing a top-5 driest January. A bit farther north, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore will likely also see a top-5 driest January.
7. Strange Severe Weather
Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes have been mostly absent so far in 2018, but ln Jan. 21-22, at least eight tornadoes moved through Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. One of those was an EF2 tornado that damaged at least 20 homes near De Kalb, Texas.
Before this event, only one tornado had been confirmed in the U.S. since Dec. 21. With the lack of severe weather is that there have been no tornado-related deaths in the U.S. for a record 250+ days (the previous record was 219 days).
California saw a rare tornado in January. The first confirmed tornado since 1998 in the forecasting area of the National Weather Service in Eureka took place on Jan. 25. It was a waterspout that moved through a marina and onto Woodley Island.
Elsewhere, upstate New York saw unusual an severe thunderstorm warning on Jan. 23. The thunderstorms that moved through produced pea-sized hail and strong winds gusts.
8. Arctic Sea Ice At Record Low Levels
The upper-level ridge of high pressure that has brought above-average temperatures to much of the western U.S. has also brought record warmer-than-average temperatures to Alaska. Locations from Anchorage to Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) have seen average monthly temperatures for January more than 2 degrees above average.
In fact, Utqiagvik experienced a stretch of 87 days in which the average daily temperature failed to drop below climatological averages. This stretch ended on Jan. 21.
This weather pattern has had an impact on Arctic sea ice, with levels well below average. According to climate scientist Zachary Labe, as of Jan. 28 the extent of Arctic sea ice is the lowest on record. The previous record was set just last year.
Climate scientist Daniel Swain also noted that the ice actually "decreased a bit in recent days, despite total absence of sunlight during polar winter."
According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, December 2017 saw the second lowest extent of Arctic sea ice, based on the 1979 to 2017 satellite record.
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