…Temperatures Continue to Defy Old Man Winter

At a Record Pace…


Look at the calendar, and it says January. Step outside, and it feels like March or April. To no surprise, temperatures the last four to five weeks have been well above normal but the numbers are pretty astounding.


Across south central Nebraska and north central Kansas and a large part of the country, above normal temperatures have been recorded since the astronomical winter officially began on December 21. For the first 33 days of winter, the average daily temperature has been above normal. On all but a couple of days, the average daily temperature has been over 10 degrees above normal. There have been about 10 days which the average daily temperature was 20 degrees or more above normal.


Looking at some numbers for the area this winter, the warmth stands out even more. The temperatures reported are from automated weather stations and Cooperative Observers at several sites.


Location Average Daily High/Departure from Normal Average Daily Low/Departure from Normal Warmest Temperature
Kearney 51.2 / + 17.4 26.5 / + 15.2 70 – Jan. 15 
Hastings 51.4 / + 17.5    27.5 / + 14.1    71 – Jan. 15
Grand Island 49.9 / + 17.1 26.5 / + 14.1 70 – Jan. 15
Greeley 49.1 / + 15.3 22.4 / + 12.1 70 – Jan. 15
Osceola 46.7 / + 13.0 24.6 / + 11.9 70 – Jan. 15
Holdrege 50.6 / + 13.8  26.5 / + 11.6 67 – Jan. 15
Superior 52.7 / +15.6 21.8 / + 6.9  73 – Jan. 15
Beloit 51.3 / + 12.0  23.9 / + 7.4 66 – Jan. 15*
Plainville 54.5 / + 13.9 27.0 / + 9.7 69 – Jan. 15*
Smith Center 51.0 / + 12.5 25.3 / + 9.9 69 – Jan. 15


                             * the warmest temperature occurred more than once at Beloit and Plainville


During a period of time when the average high temperature should have ranged from 32 to 40 degrees, the region enjoyed daily high temperatures ranging from 47 degrees at Osceola to over 54 degrees at Plainville.


Think of it this way. The last 33 days, on average every day, have been like typical days in late March or early April. That means it has felt more like the first part of spring than the dead of winter!


Simply stated; The first 33 days of this winter have been the warmest on average since records have been kept in this part of the country (dating back to around 1880 in some cases).


A Record Breaker?


So far this January, most locations are 12 to 17 degrees above normal.  To see if we are on a record pace we can look at the monthly average temperatures for Grand Island, Nebraska this January.


The normal average temperature for Grand Island in January is 22.4 degrees. Through January 21, the average temperature for Grand Island has been 38.2 degrees. That is almost 16 degrees above normal.


The current record for the warmest January is 36.4 degrees back in 1933. Grand Island, like most other sites, is on pace to break the record for the warmest January. In fact, with another week of warm weather in the forecast, it becomes more and more likely. However, even a couple of cold days at the end of the month could take the daily average down, so it is not certain just yet.


Here is a list of the top five warmest Januarys for Grand Island on record:


1.                  36.4 degrees in 1933    (38.2 degrees so far during January 2006)

2.                  34.9 degrees in 1919

3.                  34.2 degrees in 1992

4.                  33.9 degrees in 1921

5.                  33.8 degrees in 1990 and 1986


Why So Warm?


The reason for such warm weather is the cold air which often originates in Siberia has remained there. There has been very little cold air flowing across the polar region and into Alaska and northern Canada. With the cold air bottled up on the other side of the globe, a generally dry and westerly flow has sustained itself over the United States. In our case, the flow has been favorable for dry downslope winds to warm the lower atmosphere.


To illustrate just how the weather around the globe interacts, look no further than the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  Just as we began our warm spell 33 days ago, it started raining in Olympia, Washington. In fact, as of January 21 it had rained for 34 straight days in Olympia. The shift north in the normal winter storm track which has resulted in the warm weather across the central and eastern United States has caused record rainfall, flooding and frequent debris flows in Washington and Oregon.  Even outside the United States, extreme cold and snow blanketed much of northern Asia while we have enjoyed the mild weather.


The downside to such warm temperatures is often much below normal precipitation, and that is the case so far this winter. Total precipitation since December 21 has been less than a quarter inch across much of south central Nebraska and north central Kansas. There are some sites which have reported little if any measurable precipitation since mid-December.


The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor depicted much of south central Nebraska in a moderate drought. The rest of the area was considered abnormally dry.  However, drought conditions can worsen quickly if no significant precipitation occurs in the area.  The most recent Seasonal Drought Outlook calls for dry and drought conditions to persist over south central Nebraska and north central Kansas in the coming months.


What to Expect?


Last week the Climate Prediction Center Branch of NOAA’s National Weather Service issued it’s monthly seasonal forecast. The forecast for the three month period of February, March and April calls for slightly increased chances of precipitation being less than normal (drier). The temperature outlook calls for no strong signal of warmer or colder weather. That means there are equal chances of the three month average temperatures being in the above, below and near normal categories.


In Nebraska and Kansas, though a major snow storm or bitter cold outbreak is not imminent, it is way too early to put away the heavy winter coat or the snow blower. In fact, February and March are the snowiest months on average.  Record low temperatures in the region are as low as 30 below zero during the first half of February.


As most of us know, and this winter has illustrated again, just about anything can happen when it comes to weather in Nebraska and Kansas.




For more information, go to NOAAs NWS Hastings Climate Homepage.


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