Wacky Weather Waning

Across the country it was the warmest January on record. Americans saved money on energy bills last month and saw record lows in residential energy demand -- more than 20 percent below average. And those rolling blackouts energy analysts warned about remained a distant reality.

The National Climatic Data Center reported this week that the average January temperature was nearly 40 degrees, beating out the old record of 37.3 degrees set back in 1953.

What happened in January?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that the jet stream stayed much farther north than usual this January, trapping the cold air up north, which allowed for warm air to keep temperatures up.

"It has been very mild across the entire country. There is no easy explanation for that," said meteorologist Buzz Bernard with the Weather Channel. "It has to do with the upper wind pattern set up in late December."

In other words, instead of brisk winds coming in from above North America, the air masses drifted in from the warm Pacific, sparing the country from cold winds. Bernard said it is not so much that there was warm air coming in from the west, but that there was an absence of cold air coming in from the north.

Bernard explains that while a normal January would produce "big dips" in temperature and "drive cold air from Canada, [this year] we had a total absence of that. The wind came from west to the east."

Look Out for La Niña

As we move in to February, La Niña makes a comeback, and its presence is expected to perpetuate the dryness and drought for residents of the Southwestern states, which does not bode well for parts of Arizona that have not seen rain for more than 100 days.

"La Niña has driven temperature patterns across the country," said Bernard. "It tends to be warmer than average in the Southwest and much of the deep South into the Carolinas. It will be somewhat cooler than average in the Northwest and upper Midwest."

"This pattern will favor continued drought in parts of the South and Southwest from Arizona to Arkansas and Louisiana, and above-normal precipitation in the Northwest and the Tennessee Valley area," said NOAA administrator Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher.

NOAA forecasters predicted La Niña could hang around into late spring and potentially into the summer months. The timing is right; La Niña makes an appearance every three to five years.

The Groundhog May Have Had It Right

The February outlook suggests the jet stream is now sliding into a more typical winter pattern, according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Forecasters are calling for below-normal temperatures in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast and inter-mountain West. Temperatures will climb above average in the Southwest, the northern Plains and Alaska.

In the Northwest, rainfall is about 200 percent above normal so far this year, from Seattle down through Northern California, according to meteorologists at Accuweather. NOAA predicted more rain is in sight.

For some parts of the country, winter may be just getting under way.

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