Wichita started 2006 by recording it's warmest January on record, when an average temperature of 43.2 degrees was recorded. This broke a 73-year old January average temperature record, 42.5 degrees, set in 1933, when the Dust Bowl Era was about to begin.

Typically, January is the coldest month of the year in Wichita, but not so in 2006. As stated earlier, the average monthly temperature in January, 2006 was 43.2 degrees, an amazing 13.0 degrees above the normal of 30.2. The average high temperature was 56.6 degrees, a staggering 16.5 degrees above normal, while average low temperature was 29.8 degrees, 9.5 degrees above normal.

These temperatures statistics are the warmest since climate record-keeping commenced in Wichita on July 1st, 1888.

As amazing as these statistics are, it's surprising that only one temperature record was set, be it a high temperature or warmest overnight low, when a high of 69 degrees was reached on the 3rd. Therefore, the password for the record January warmth was PERSISTENCE. Let's illustrate.

High temperatures reached between 60 and 70 degrees on 13 days, and between 50 and 60 degrees on 13 others. The high temperature reached 40 degrees EVERY DAY. January signed off with high temperatures reaching 50 degrees 11 consecutive days from the 21st thru the 31st. From the 24th thru the 31st, the high temperature reached 60 degrees six times during this eight-day period.

Overnight lows remained above freezing 11 times, and dropped below 20 degrees only once, when a low of 17 was recorded on the 21st.

The average temperature for a given calendar day reached or exceeded 50 degrees seven times, including three consecutive days from the 26th thru the 28th. On only eight days did the average temperature fail to reach 40, and NOT ONCE did the average temperature for a given calendar day drop below freezing.

The climate staff plan to conduct research on each of the more "obscure" temperature statistics, to see how many of these latter feats are records as well.

Little doubt, the question many are asking is: "What caused such warm weather?" That question will be answered now.

First, neither El Nino, nor it's cohort, La Nina, are responsible for the record January warmth. A major player in the record-setting warmth was the pattern that set up over the Eastern Pacific and Pacific Coast. The pattern was characterized by fairly persistent low pressure in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere situated over the Gulf of Alaska and equally persistent high pressure over the Central and Eastern Pacific. The two circulations teamed to produce deep, prevailing westerlies. Such circulations transport air that warms, then dries, as it crosses the Rockies.

A role player in such a circulation is a phenomenon known as the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation consists of a pressure "dipole", with one pressure "center" located between 20 and 50 degrees North Latitude over the Central Pacific, while the second pressure "center" of opposite sign is located near the Arctic Circle. If fairly persistent high pressure is situated over the Central Pacific, equally persistent low pressure is found near the Arctic Circle. Such a pressure pattern induces the deep westerly component just described, and results in warmer-than-normal weather across much of North America, more specifically, Canada as well as the Northern and Central Plains.

Providing ample testimony to how dry it was during January were the rainfall statistics. Wichita measured only 0.11 inch, 0.73 inch below normal. This total narrowly missed admission into the "Top 10 driest Januaries" of all time, by 0.01 inch. Of this total, 0.09 inch occurred on the 28th. Salina measured only 0.14 inch, 0.66 inch below normal. In fact, Salina also recorded their warmest January on record with an average temperature of 43.0 degrees. Russell was dry as well, measuring only 0.10 inch.

Such warm, dry weather resulted in the issuances of numerous "Burn Bans". The situation was greatly exacerbated by strong winds that whipped across the region. For example, Wichita experienced gusts that exceeded 40 mph on at five days. On two such occasions, gusts reached 45 mph, 46 mph on the 12th, and 45 mph on the 31st. Sustained speeds exceeded 30 mph on seven days, the greatest being 38 mph on the 12th. Such occurrences were by no means limited to Wichita, as Salina was whipped by gusts exceeding 40 mph twice: 44 mph on the 12th, and 41 mph on the 26th. Russell was lashed by 40 mph gusts on three dates: 43 mph on the 12th, 41 mph on the 8th, and 40 mph on the 4th.

In summation: January, 2006 proved in eloquent terms that severe thunderstorms and all of their associated by-products, large hail of 1 inch diameter and greater, damaging winds of 60 mph and greater, tornadoes, and flash floods, are not the only events drawing headlines, although such events are certainly deserving of such attention. Speaking of tornadoes, a freak tornado paid a visit to Newton on January 28th, the first time a tornado had occurred in Kansas during January dating back to 1950. This tornado occurred without the "assistance" of a thunderstorm! The year 2006 is off to quite a start. We shall see what the rest of the year has to offer weatherwise.

This story was brought to you by the National Weather Service - Wichita, Kansas.

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