The Heat Is Online

January Sees Record Warmth in Northern U.S.

Record-breaking warmth stretches far north, Jan. 20, 2002

With record highs cover the Midwest and Plains instead of bone-chilling cold and snow, residents are spending more time outdoors, while some farmers hope the warmth doesn't sabotage winter crops.

Why is it so warm in January? Experts say the cold air that dipped south the last week of December, has retreated -- even as far north as Alaska.

Yesterday's high temperature of 40 degrees F at Fairbanks, Alaska, clocked in well above the average high on that date: -2 degrees F. Today's low was 7 degrees, with the average low measuring -18 degrees.

But to get the whole picture, one has to look at record high temperatures in Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Cities in all those states and more turned in readings that were well above the average highs for winter.

The pattern even has experts puzzled.

"We've had wild extremes, but the only extremes we haven't had was extreme cold," chided Paul Kocin, winter weather expert at The Weather Channel. "It continues to be a very unusual winter for the continental United States, as well as Canada and Alaska."

Kocin said that large, cold high-pressure systems typically develop and cross northern Canada, but such weather patterns have been strangely absent this winter.

"The 'why' of it all is a big question mark," he continued. "The global warming signal has been present for a number of years and this unusual pattern may or may not be more of an indication of its effect."

In past years, unusual weather activities have been attributed to El Niño and La Niña, but Kocin said that since neither is present -- despite reports that El Niño could make a resurgence this year.

"I don't think having El Niño returning is to blame for all that we're seeing," explained Kocin. "Some of the obvious symptoms -- such as increased storminess -- we haven't seen yet, so I wouldn't start labeling the weather patterns as El Niño-related just because there are reports saying that we may be entering another El Niño cycle."

Kocin also said that cold that brought snow as far south as Florida the first week of 2002 is normal, despite the warm pattern being experienced farther north.

"There are individual winter weather events that can stand out," he said, mentioning the Southern snow. "The South got unusually cold, but what was interesting was that for the rest of the country didn't get unusually frigid. Also, even in winters that are dominated by a certain pattern, you can still experience the other extremes briefly."