From the Curiosity Desk
2:17 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

You're Reading This Correctly: Why Was It So Warm This January?

The Polar Vortex is a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure.
Credit NASA

What do you get when you add hefty snowfall to the Polar Vortex and sprinkle in a bit of Bombogenisis on top? The fourth warmest January on record.

Huh?!

It’s been a good old fashioned winter here in Boston, complete with 2 degree nights, 21.8 inches of snow, and (hyperbole alert) 8,342 stories in the local press about whether you can use a lawn chair to save your parking space.

It's been cold elsewhere too. In Chicago, they averaged a positively chilly 15.7 degrees for the month of January, 8 degrees lower than average. Then there was that snow and ice storm in Atlanta that made the highways there look like a winter version of REM’s Everybody Hurts video.

But don’t be such a xenophobe. Outside the Eastern US, it’s been a different story.

A teddy bear in a tree on Market Street in Brighton weathers snow and mild temperatures within a week.
Credit Peter Kadzis/Brendan Lynch / WGBH News

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which keeps track of temperatures all over the world -- by land and by sea -- has just finished crunching the numbers for January 2014. Turns out, it was positively balmy:

During January 2014, most of the world's land areas experienced warmer-than-average temperatures, with the most notable departures from the 1981–2010 average across Alaska, western Canada, Greenland, Mongolia, southern Russia, and northern China.

The average global land temperature was the highest since 2007 and the fourth highest on record for January. Over the oceans, temps were highest since 2010 and seventh highest on record for January. Combined, it adds up the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record.

You can check out NOAA’s website for more detailed analysis than you can shake a stick at, but here are a few highlights:

  • January 2014 in France tied 1988 and 1936 for the warmest January on record, almost five full degrees F above the 1981–2010 average.
  • Austria has been tracking temperatures since 1768. This January was the fifth warmest on record, almost six degrees F above the 1981-2010 average. 
  • Spain experienced its warmest January since 1996 and the third warmest since national records began in 1961
  • In China, they had their second warmest January since national records began being kept in 1961.
  • In Australia January 2014 temperature ranked among the top 10 warmest in Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia.

It's a big world out there (about 196.6 million square miles to be exact) and as these and many other numbers suggest, despite our chilly winter, it's getting warmer.

Tags: