This winter was cold for some, not for all

A lot of folks in the eastern half of the United States are breathing a sigh of relief that spring is just around the corner. Average temperatures this winter were among the Top 10 coldest in some parts of the Upper Midwest and South. More than 90 percent of the surface of the Great Lakes is frozen, the highest in 35 years.

But while East Coast and Midwest kids have been sledding and their parents have been shoveling, it has not been cold everywhere. In fact, many areas are unusually warm.

In Alaska, January temperatures were as high as they have been in 30 years. The Iditarod dogsled race was especially treacherous this month because of a lack of snow. Crews had to stockpile and dump snow on the ground at the finish line in Nome, where temperatures earlier this winter broke a record.

Globally, January was the fourth warmest on record – really – despite pockets of well-below-normal temperatures in parts of the United States. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most areas of the world experienced warmer-than-average monthly temperatures. For example:

  • China experienced its second warmest January on record.
  • France tied its warmest January.
  • Parts of Brazil and Australia saw record heat.
January temperatures were above normal for much of the globe.
January temperatures were above normal for much of the globe.

Also, Arctic sea ice extent was the fourth smallest on record.

In the future, climate change will not lead to an end of cold weather. Below-normal temperatures and even record cold will continue to occur, but will become less frequent. Record-breaking high temperatures have already become more common than record-breaking low temperatures and that will keep happening.

As we experience day-to-day changes in weather wherever we live, it’s important to remember that a few hot or cold days do not constitute a change in climate. A change in climate (i.e., a change in our long-term averages of the weather) requires decades of observations of temperature and other weather variables. And these observations tell us that our planet is unequivocally warming.