NOAA’s national overview for January 2014 is out, and the results might surprise you … if you live in the eastern half of the U.S. Yes, those in the U.S. East this year have been shivering and digging out from under mounds of snow. On January 6, 2014, alone, approximately 50 daily record low temperatures were set, from Colorado to Alabama to New York, according to the National Weather Service. In some places temperatures were 40 degrees Fahrenheit colder than average. According to NOAA temperature data for the month of January 2014, however, the average temperature for the U.S. as a whole was about normal. That’s because a warm U.S. West balanced a cool U.S. East.
Overall, the average temperature for January 2014 in the U.S. was 30.3 degrees, only one-tenth of a degree below normal for the month. That makes January 2014 in the continental U.S. the 53rd coldest of 120 years of record-keeping, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
Why has it been so cold in the U.S. East? If you haven’t heard the words polar vortex by now, you are definitely not paying attention. NASA has a great illustration of the formation of the polar vortex over weeks. NASA explained:
A persistent pattern of winds spins high above the Arctic in winter. The winds, known as the polar vortex, typically blow in a fairly tight circular formation. But in late December 2013 and early January 2014, the winds loosened and frigid Arctic air spilled farther south than usual, deep into the continental United States.
The video below explains it more fully, or click here to go to NASA’s page on The Big Chill.
Bottom line: Despite record-breaking cold temperatures in the U.S. East, the average temperature for the U.S. for the month of January is about normal. That’s because extra-warm temps in the U.S. West offset the rest of the country.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.