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More warm global records set in January

By Skip Rigney
Weather observations from land and sea around the world indicate that last month was the warmest January globally since 1880.
That’s according to a report released this week by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. It may have been the warmest January going even further back than 141 years, but 1880 is the first year that climatologists have enough reliable and widespread temperature data to calculate a global average temperature accurate enough to compare with present-day estimates.
Of course, as I’ve discussed in this column many times, saying that a month was warmer than the historical average, doesn’t mean that it was warmer-than-average everyday or everywhere. Alaska and northwest Canada had a colder-than-average January, as did northern India, and portions of the southern oceans.
However, this January’s warmth was remarkably widespread. Large swaths of Russia, Europe, eastern North America, and Australia were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above average, which is a large anomaly for a monthly average over a large area.
Often a much warmer-than-normal global average is driven by warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean when the climatic oscillation known as El Nino is underway. However, last month’s record setting warmth was the highest monthly departure ever recorded without an El Nino present.
NOAA also reported that, “January 2020 marked the 44th consecutive January and the 421st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average,” and the “four warmest Januaries documented in the climate record have occurred since 2016; the 10 warmest have all occurred since 2002.”
Although Alaska had a colder-than-usual January, the month’s average for the lower 48 states of the U.S. was the fifth warmest on record. None of the lower 48 states were near-average or cooler-than-average last month. All of this follows on the heels of 2019 which had the second warmest global average annual temperature since the beginning of the records in 1880. That’s according to a joint NOAA-NASA report released last month. The hottest year globally was just four years ago in 2016.
To say that the planet is having a stretch of warm weather is an understatement. This would be a good lead-in for a discussion about climate change, but that subject is too complex and, frankly, too controversial, for me to explain my views in the few words available for the remainder of this column.
Suffice it to say that, while there is a lot we don’t know, this much is indisputable: the past several decades have been globally warmer than the several decades that came before.
Moving from long-term, global climate back to near-term local weather, forecasters expect much of the upcoming week to continue our trend of plentiful clouds. That’s thanks to the continuation of west and southwest winds in the upper atmosphere across the southern United States. That flow will also help keep the coldest air bottled up to our north. On Tuesday, while afternoon temperatures in south Mississippi will approach 80 degrees, some places in North Dakota probably won’t make it out of the single digits.
Wednesday, a frontal passage is predicted allowing the southern edge of the cold air mass to nudge into our area. Temperatures are forecast to be in the 40s and 50s Thursday and Friday.