By all accounts, weather during January of 2014 was freakish, extreme and odd. The eastern half of the US suffered from severe, though brief cold snaps along with a train of extreme weather stemming from two strong polar vortex collapse events. The western half of the US suffered from extended drought and unusual warmth as California, at the epicenter of dryness, found itself fighting major wildfires during winter.
Both sets of extremes were strongly influenced by a powerful high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that funneled warm, dry air into the Western US and stormy Arctic air into the Eastern States. A weather condition that, according to scientists such as Dr. Jennifer Francis, stems from an ongoing build up of Arctic heat and a related erosion of northern polar sea ice.
(University of Washington model projection for Monday, February 24 shows strong west-coast blocking pattern with powerful warm air invasion of the Arctic and related countervailing trough over the US East Coast that has been the typical pattern since about April of 2013. A set of conditions persisting for 11 months that has led to extreme weather and climate events from Alaska to California to the East Coast. Image source: University of Washington.)
Meandering Jet Streams. Blocking patterns lasting 11 months. Cold air flushed out of the Arctic and into Canada and the Eastern US by warm air invasions. Related Polar Vortex collapses. Winter fires in New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Norway. Such events are what the start of weather extremes caused by human-spurred climate change look like.
If you were to tell your neighborhood climate change denier such a thing, your words would have likely fallen on deaf ears. For if the winter weather in the Northeast, or anywhere for that matter, was extreme, so were the cries from various sources claiming that such weather was a clear repudiation of the titanic volume of scientific evidence now supporting an empirically obvious human-caused warming. The climate change denier’s eyes, ever and anon, were blind to excessive warmth in the west, over the Pacific Ocean and thrusting deep into the Arctic itself.
But despite the often shrill cries of climate change denial, evidence again leveled a crushing blow to the contrarian point of view.
For according to NASA and NOAA, global temperatures were again among the hottest on average for the month. NASA found that January was 2014 was the 3rd hottest on record, while the NOAA measure showed the month as 4th hottest.
(Global temperature departures from the average. Image source: NOAA/NCDC.)
In the most recent NOAA assessment, we see large areas of hottest ever temperatures ranging from Brazil, the South Atlantic, South Africa, the Western Pacific north and east of Australia and New Guinea, the North-Central Atlantic, the southern tip of Greenland, and the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska. Cooler than average regions were relegated to the Eastern US, the North Atlantic south of Greenland, north-central Siberia, and areas of the southern ocean south of Cape Horn and New Zealand.
It is worth noting that no regions of the globe showed record coldest readings despite small zones in the eastern US that experienced 8th and 12th coldest years on record. But despite these isolated cool zones, ever the fodder for climate change denial cherry picking, the global balance tipped heavily toward heat.
Moving on to the Continental US, we can clearly see from NOAA’s assessment that:
The average temperature for the contiguous United States during January was 30.3°F, or 0.1°F below the 20th century average. The January 2014 temperature ranked near the middle of the 120-year period of record, and was the coldest January since 2011. Despite some of the coldest Arctic air outbreaks to impact the East in several years, no state had their coldest January on record.
So despite the hype and a number of cold Arctic air outbursts, average temperatures for the contiguous US were merely average — one of the few average temperature zones in a near record-hot world. That these overall average readings would seem cold to us now is a clear sign that we are growing all too used to above average warmth and heat.