NOAA Magazine || NOAA Home Page


NOAA illustration of warmest January on record.Feb. 7, 2006 The United States had its warmest January on record, with an average temperature of 39.5 degrees F, which is 8.5 degrees F (4.7 degrees C) above the 1895-2005 mean of 31.0 degrees F, according to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The higher than average temperatures resulted in a record low value of a temperature-related residential energy demand index NOAA regularly calculates for the nation. (Click NOAA illustration for larger view of warmest January on record. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

The jet stream remained unusually far to the north during January 2006, trapping cold air in Canada and Alaska, while allowing relatively warm Pacific air to influence the temperatures across the contiguous U.S. This led to the nationally warm conditions. The jet stream is currently giving way to a more typical winter pattern, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. The February outlook calls for below normal temperatures in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and the inter-mountain West, and above-normal temperatures in the Southwest, the northern Plains and Alaska.

Throughout January 2006, none of the contiguous U.S. experienced below-average temperatures—each state was warmer than the long-term mean. Fifteen states in the northern Plains, Great Lakes and Midwest had record high temperatures for the month, with an additional 26 states having temperatures much above average. More than 74 percent of the country was classified as "much above normal" when compared to the 1961-1990 climate normal. Only twice since 1895 has more than 74 percent of the nation had a much above-normal temperature—March 1910 and November 1999. None of the contiguous U.S. fell into the 'much below normal' category last month. The second warmest January on record was in 1953, which was 2.3 degrees F cooler than January 2006.

The record high temperatures helped reduce residential energy needs for the nation as a whole. The Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI) (an index developed at NOAA to relate energy usage to climate) fell to its lowest January value on record. Using this index, NOAA scientists determined that the nation's residential energy demand was approximately 20 percent less than that which would have occurred under average climate conditions for the month. For early winter (November 2005-January 2006) the REDTI was third lowest on record.

Regions of the country, such as the northern and central Plains that normally have some of the most severe winter temperatures, had temperatures more than 10 degrees F above their January average. Bismarck, N.D.; Wichita, Kan.; Blacksburg, Va.; Rochester, Minn., and towns throughout the mid-section of the country had their warmest January on record. January 2006 was more than 15 degrees F above the mean for cities such as Rochester and Minneapolis/St Paul, Minn., and Bismarck, N.D. For the Twin Cities in Minnesota, it was only the second January since 1891 in which the mercury did not dip below zero degrees F. For parts of the northern Plains, the record warm January also follows on the heels of a warm December 2005. North Dakota and Oklahoma both had record high temperatures for the last three months (November 2005-January 2006).

In many areas, temperatures were warmer in January than they were in December, by as much as 9 degrees F in some cases. In a normal winter, January is usually colder than December by 2.4 degrees F nationally. This winter, the U.S. temperature in January exceeded December by 6.1 degrees F.

However, north of the jet stream, temperatures across Alaska were much-below average. Fairbanks reached a minimum temperature of minus 51 degrees F Jan. 27, with a high of only minus 40 degrees F for that day. The last time the temperature in Fairbanks reached minus 50 degrees F, or below, was in December 1999. The normal minimum for Fairbanks in January is minus 19 degrees F and a normal high is zero degrees F. For the month, Fairbanks had a mean temperature 12.4 degrees F below normal.

The warm Pacific air also provided an ample source of moisture for parts of the U.S. during January. A fast-moving parade of storm systems from the Pacific led to 35 consecutive days of measurable rain for Olympia, Wash., breaking the previous record of 33 days set in 1953. More than 27 inches of rain fell from Dec. 19 - Jan. 18 in Astoria, Wash., establishing a new record for the wettest 31-day period for the city.

While rain and snow were abundant in the Pacific Northwest, areas of the southern Plains that have been suffering severe drought conditions since the spring of 2005, again received little of the needed rainfall last month. Wildfires that began in early winter in the southern Plains continued into January, with more than 330,000 acres being consumed in 2006 as of Jan. 31, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The Southwest also was dry during January with Phoenix setting a new record—104 consecutive days without rain.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA U.S. National Overview—January 2006

NOAA National Climatic Data Center

NOAA Drought Information Center

NOAA Past Weather

Media Contact:
John Leslie, NOAA Satellite and Information Service, (301) 457-5005