The NCDC (National Climatic Data Center), the climate monitoring arm of NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), issued its January 2006 weather overview today. To probably no meteorologist’s surprise, January 2006 was the warmest January in the contiguous 48 states since national records began in 1895. To put the incredible warmth of January into perspective, here’s the graphic from the NCDC that shows how January 2006 ranked in comparison to all of the other years on record.
Astonighingly, Florida’s January was the closest to being “normal,” even though it was still the state’s 22nd warmest January in the past 112 years. Also astounding is the fact that 15 states, including Minnesota, reported January 2006 as being the warmest January on record.
So why was this past January so warm? That’s a good question, and, in order to provide the best response, I’ll quote what NOAA’s summary of the NCDC report said:
"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....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."You may now be wondering, how does January’s weather in Brainerd, Minnesota connect to all of this? It’s sort of hard to say right now, because the data from the weather reporting station in Brainerd is not made public until a few months after the date it was recorded. Thus, the only temperature data available right now for analysis is that from the automatic sensor at the Brainerd airport. Still, taking a peek at this data, the average temperature in January in Brainerd was 25°F, a whopping 19.7°F above the long-term average. Judging by the fact that January 2006 was likely the warmest January in Minneapolis since 1846, it’s probably safe to assume, since Brainerd was founded in 1871, that January 2006 in Brainerd was the warmest in the town’s history. It’s also probably safe to assume that no other month has deviated from average as much January 2006. Deviations of 10° or more from average tend to be pretty rare and statistically significant, so a deviation of 19.7° is even more anomalous.
I’ll apologize right now if this post has bored you, but, if you didn’t know already, I have a strong interest in the weather. For reasons I can’t really explain, I always have. Still, I also really enjoy chemistry, so that’s why I’m at UND involved in that rather than atmospheric sciences. Even so, I’m going to announce here right now that I’ve made a decision to get involved in UND’s seemingly good atmospheric sciences department (it is connected to the aviation department, after all) and take some courses in the subject next year, when I’ll be able to fit them into my schedule. I haven’t made plans year, but, if I wanted to, I feel that I definitely could strive for a minor in atmospheric sciences. There is such a thing as an atmospheric chemistry field to work in, so getting a major in chemistry with a minor in atmospheric sciences may not be all that bad of an idea.
Getting back to my subject, I think it’s fascinating to look at past weather statistics and see how dynamic and ever-changing weather can be. To that end, I highly prize the efforts that an atmospheric sciences professor at St. Cloud State University has gone though in putting together “The Ultimate Saint Cloud Climate Page.”
For the past two years or so, I’ve been going through the historical data available on the Minnesota Climateology Working Group's website to try to replicate the St. Cloud climate page with one showing roughly the same statistics based on Brainerd’s past weather. With the exception of a list showing all the lows of 32°F or lower as well as a chart showing the average temperatures of every month and year on record, my “Ultimate Brainerd Climate Page” is nearly complete. I was originally going to publish it all as a website, but I’ve held off on it largely because I’m not all that ambitious and I also doubt that many people would find it that interesting anyway.
Nonetheless, I think there’s something to be gained from looking at the data for Brainerd I’ve accumulated and comparing it with the preliminary January 2006 data from the airport in Brainerd. First of all, Brainerd only had 3 days with lows of 0°F or lower this past January. An average January would have 18.5 days of zero-or-below lows. If January 2006 officially ends up having a mere 3 days with lows of 0°F or colder, it will tie January 1931 with having the fewest number of days with lows of 0°F or colder in January.
January 2006 will more than likely help ensure that the winter of 2005-2006 has a very low number of days with lows of zero-or-below. The record for the fewest number of these days in an entire winter is 19, set during the winters of 1930-1931 and 1997-1998. Unofficially, as of February 6, Brainerd has seen only 11 lows of zero-or-below.
It’s just about a given, due to the fact that the arctic air in Canada will continue to get less and less cold as the sun moves higher and becomes stronger, that Brainerd will not see any temperatures of -20°F or lower until the winter of 2006-2007 at the earliest. If there are no lows of -20°F or lower in the next few weeks, the winter of 2005-2006 will tie those of 1930-1931 and 2001-2002 with being the only ones not to have such temperatures. Likewise, if there are no highs of zero-or-below in the next few weeks, the winter of 2005-2006 will be only the 9th since 1898-1899 not to have days meeting this criterion.
Of course, all of this warmth, which is not just confined to the winter of 2005-2006 – the winters of the past 8 years have, by and large, averaged quite a bit above average – brings up the whole topic of global warming. Delving into this subject is outside the scope of this post, but, someday, sometime, I hope to share some insight on it and how it may be affecting the Brainerd area.