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This is the Department of Commerce logo Climate of 2004
January in Historical Perspective

National Climatic Data Center
13 February 2004

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Selected Global Significant Events for January 2004

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Major Highlights


States from the Carolinas to the Northeast and Midwest were colder than average in January, while temperatures were closer to normal in much of the rest of the country, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, N.C. Many states along the eastern seaboard were drier than average compared to unusually wet conditions that persisted for much of 2003 in the region. The global average temperature for January was the coolest since 2001 but ranked as the 4th warmest on record.

NOAA scientists report that the average temperature for the contiguous United States in January (based on preliminary data) was 0.2°F (0.1°C) below average, the 49th coldest January of the past 110 years. The mean temperature in five northeastern states (Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) was much-below average, with Massachusetts having its coldest January on record. The Northeast region as a whole was eleventh coldest on record for January and the Southeast region was also colder than average. Only four states (Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona) were warmer than average for the month.

Overall, precipitation for the contiguous United States was below average, ranking 30th driest on record for the month. Every state from Georgia to Maine, except Pennsylvania, was drier or much drier than average.

This was in sharp contrast to the unusually wet conditions affecting this region for much of 2003. Five states (North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) were much drier than average with below-average snowfall totals east of the Adirondack Mountains contributing to the dry conditions in the Northeast.

However, several large winter storms affected the country in late January. A winter storm the week of January 25 affected states from Georgia to the Northeast. Freezing rain triggered power outages in South Carolina and lasted more than 48 hours for over 100,000 customers and up to a week in remote areas. Lake effect snow along the shores of Lake Ontario between January 22 and 24 left parts of Oswego County, N.Y., with more than 3 feet of new snow. A series of recent winter storms in the central Plains included a storm on January 25-26 that produced more than 1 foot of snow in parts of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

Precipitation in five states west of the Mississippi (California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming and South Dakota) was below average in January, and snowpack was below average at the end of January in much of the Southwest and central and southern Rocky Mountains. But in many other parts of the West, precipitation in January and for the snow-year to date produced average to above-average mountain snowpack. These conditions may help alleviate drought when the spring snowmelt season arrives, but 56 percent* of the West continued to be affected by moderate to extreme drought at the end of the month due to several years of unusual warmth and inadequate precipitation. The most severe impacts at the end of January were located in areas of the Southwest and parts of the Northern Rockies, especially southern Idaho and southwestern Montana.

*This statistic is based on a widely used measure of drought, the Palmer Drought index.

The average global temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces during January 2004 (based on preliminary data) was 1.0°F (0.54°C) above the 1880-2003 long-term mean. Although this January was the coolest since 2001, it tied January 1988 as the 4th warmest since 1880 (the beginning of reliable instrumental records).

Temperatures were anomalously warm in much of Asia, western Europe and South America while below average temperatures covered much of Canada, Alaska, and the eastern United States as well as parts of eastern Europe and Australia. The global ocean surface temperature tied 2002 as the third warmest January on record, and temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific were near average as the neutral phase of ENSO (El Niño/ Southern Oscillation) continued.

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