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January 2013 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 02/06/13

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January 2013 Climate Summary  

For a printable version of the climate summary which includes more figures, data tables, and state summaries, click here

Temperature Summary

The January 2013 nationwide picture showed that the eastern U.S. generally experienced above normal temperatures while the western U.S. had below normal temperatures. Average temperatures across the High Plains Region were generally near normal, except for western areas of Colorado and Wyoming. In fact, the western half of Colorado had some of the largest departures in the Region with average temperatures ranging from 6.0-13.0 degrees F (3.3-7.2 degrees C) below normal. This caused many stations to rank in the top 10 coolest Januarys on record. Grand Junction, Colorado had its 5th coolest January with an average temperature of 14.3 degrees F (-9.8 degrees C), which was 13.1 degrees F (7.3 degrees C) below normal (period of record 1893-2013). The coolest January occurred in 1973 with an average temperature of 11.5 degrees F (-11.4 degrees C). In addition, Alamosa, Colorado had its 4th coolest January on record with an average temperature of only 4.6 degrees F (-15.2 degrees C) which was 11.7 degrees F (6.5 degrees C) below normal. The 1992 record of 1.4 degrees F (-17.0 degrees C) held firmly (period of record 1906-2013).

Storm systems pushing through the Region brought both cold air down from Canada and warm air up from the south. This led to a wide range of temperatures and to many new daily record highs and lows. For example, Topeka, Kansas set its all-time January record high with 77 degrees F (25.0 degrees C) on the 28th. The old record of 74 degrees F (23.3 degrees C) occurred on January 8, 2003 and January 2, 1939 (period of record 1887-2013).

Precipitation Summary

Precipitation was hit or miss across the High Plains Region this month. Because winter precipitation is generally light, there was little to no change in the drought regardless of whether a location received ample precipitation or not. Overall precipitation varied widely as totals ranged from 0 to 400 percent of normal. Above normal precipitation
was concentrated in north central Wyoming, southwestern Colorado, southwestern and central South Dakota, and central and southeastern Kansas. The precipitation totals were not record breaking; however a few locations managed to get into the top 5 wettest Januarys on record. Howard 5 NE, located in southeastern Kansas, had its 4th wettest January on record with 2.81 inches (71 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation. The record set in 1949 held at 5.40 inches (137 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation (period of record 1907-2013). Meanwhile, other areas of the Region received little to no precipitation. Rock Springs, Wyoming had its driest January on record with only a trace amount of precipitation. The old record of 0.02 inches (1 mm) was set in 2004 (period of record 1948-2013).

Several systems affected the Region this month, bringing a wide range of temperatures and precipitation types including snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain (some of which fell from thunderstorms). One storm to hit the Region occurred on the 11th and 12th. This was the first significant storm to hit the Black Hills, although the storm impacted each state in the Region. The heaviest snow totals in southwest South Dakota ranged from 6.0-11.0 inches (15-28 cm), while the heaviest snows in North Dakota occurred in the eastern portion of the state with 5.0-8.0 inches (13-20 cm). According to the National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kansas, this system even created a dust storm out ahead of the cold front in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. This caused visibilities to drop near zero on I-70. Another storm at the end of the month brought record breaking warmth to parts of Kansas, dangerous wind chills of -25 to -50 degrees F (-31.7 to -45.6 degrees C) to the Dakotas, and wintry precipitation in between. For instance, in eastern Nebraska, snowfall totals ranged from 2.0-8.0 inches (5-20 cm) and caused issues as portions of I-80 were closed due to blowing snow and numerous schools closed. The first severe weather of the year was also associated with this storm as high winds were reported in southeastern Kansas.

One area of concern this month was the snowpack in the Rockies, which was below average. Fortunately, the snow season is far from over for the Rockies and much more snow can accumulate later in the snow season. By the end of the month, Wyoming’s statewide snowpack was 76 percent of average and Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 75 percent of average. In contrast, last year’s statewide snowpack was 112 percent of normal in Wyoming. According to the Billings Gazette, the snowpack in some basins in Wyoming was low enough to negatively impact the skiing industry. Meanwhile, the snowpack in Colorado actually increased by 17 percent the last week of the month. According to The Denver Post, even with this increase, January’s snow pack was the 8th lowest out of 32 years.

Climate Outlook

ENSO-neutral conditions are present and likely to continue through Spring 2013. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for most of Colorado and Kansas, southwestern Wyoming, and the far southwestern corner of Nebraska. A higher probability of below normal temperatures exists for much of North Dakota and northern South Dakota. The precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal precipitation for northeast South Dakota and eastern and central North Dakota. A higher probability of below normal precipitation exists for most of Colorado, the western half of Kansas, and southwest Nebraska. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation exist for the rest of the High Plains Region. The seasonal outlooks combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO). More information about these forecasts can be found here.

Drought Watch

As expected for this time of year, there was little change to the U.S. Drought Monitor over the past month. Approximately 92 percent of the Region was still in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought. This was down slightly from the end of last month when 93 percent of the Region was in D1-D4. The only improvement was in north-central North Dakota where much of the abnormally dry conditions (D0) were erased. Drought conditions worsened in Colorado where the snowpack was significantly behind. The last holdout of D1 in the north-central part of the state deteriorated to severe drought (D2). In addition, extreme drought (D3) expanded slightly in the west-central part of the state. Those changes have put the entire state of Colorado in D2-D4. Drought conditions in the remaining states in the Region did not change with Nebraska leading the way with 77 percent of the state in D4. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released January 17th, drought conditions were expected to improve in North Dakota, northern South Dakota, and northern Wyoming. Drought was expected to persist elsewhere through April 2013.

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