January a month to remember


It seems like it’s been quite a while since we’ve had a January this warm and dry, so let’s check some records.

Looking at the official figures, courtesy of Alantha Garrison of Gunnison County Electric Association, we see a whole string of high temperatures in the 30s and even into the 40s. The first two days of January this year show highs of 48, 42 and lows of 1 and 2 degrees above zero. This is unheard of (well, not really, in 1995 we had comparable figures). The average high (Tmax) for January this year was 35 degrees compared to a long-term of 25. The record is 40.45 degrees set in 1981.

Looking at the overnight lows (Tmin) for the month, one would think Alantha had dialed into the weather station in Honolulu. Here, in Gunnison, we see a string of overnight low temperatures above zero, with only about half of them barely below zero. The average low this month was -1, compared to a long-term average of -7.

Just to refresh your memory for the good old days, the average low in January 2008 was -18. Ditto for January 1984. The winter of 1965-66 recorded 39 days in a row below zero starting in late December and continuing into March. All of January 1966 had overnight lows colder than -10. The warmest Tmin ever is 5.35 above zero reached in 1980.

The mean or average temperature for January this year was 17, or 8 degrees above normal. The warmest January in history showed a mean of 21.7 in 1981. January 1984 had a mean of -4.8, which is the record.

So far the low for the entire winter is a paltry -13 (Jan. 27), and you have to go back years and years to find such a warm temperature this far into the winter. After going through many years of records I find that the warmest entire winter low was -13, found in 1982-83. What is it about the 1980s?

Precipitation also is low as you have probably noticed. According to Alantha, we show 4.1 inches of snow for the month with a moisture content of .48 inch of water, below the long-term average of 11.6 inches of snow and .8 inch of water. The average amount of snow on the ground was .1 inch, and the most snow on the ground was 1 inch.

In January 2008, we had 32 inches of snowfall, and for most of the month we had at least two feet on the ground — and that isn’t even the record! January 1957 had 50.2 inches of snowfall.

(Bruce Bartleson is a retired geology professor from Western State Colorado University who now spends his days with an eye to the sky, keeping close tabs on the weather.)