January Temperature Outlook: Warmer Than Average Conditions Possible in Northeast, Southwest

Published in 29 December, 2020

At a Glance

  • January could be warmer than average in the Northeast and Southwest.

  • A mild start to the month is expected in many areas of the U.S.

  • The forecast grows increasingly uncertain later in the month because of several factors.

Above average temperatures could be common in the Northeast and Southwest as we head into the first month of 2021, according to the latest outlook from The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

January’s forecast shows that much above average temperatures are possible across a large portion of the Northeast. Above average temperatures are also expected in parts of the Great Lakes, mid-Atlantic and Southwest.

Most other areas of the U.S. should see temperatures that are near or close to average as well.

Since January is the coldest time of year for much of the U.S., it is important to keep in mind that an above-average forecast still means it will be cold at times.

There are several competing factors that make January’s temperature forecast uncertain.

A mild start to the month is one of the reasons January might be warmer than average in many areas. However, the door might swing open for arctic air to invade the central U.S. later in the month.

“While we expect the first 10 days of the month to be generally devoid of true arctic air, we expect the back half of the month to be much more interesting as arctic air finally loads into western Canada and dumps into parts of the central U.S.,” said Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with The Weather Company.

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We are in the midst of a La Niña winter, but the recent upper-level pattern hasn’t been what is typically expected. Ridging has developed in the North Atlantic, which indicates the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) has trended negative – favorable for atmospheric blocking.

That pattern is usually favorable for driving intrusions of arctic air into the central and eastern states. However, the weather pattern in the North Pacific Ocean might not allow that to happen, at least as the month begins.

“The takeaway here is that the northwest Atlantic ridging will likely become the dominant pattern driver in the Northern Hemisphere in January, but that the Pacific pattern may still not support big U.S. cold, especially during the first half of the month,” Crawford said.

Late in the month, there are some signs that temperatures might grow increasingly colder than average in western Canada which is a typical hallmark of La Niña winters. If that happens, then some of the colder air could eventually dislodge southward into a portion of the northwestern or central Lower 48.

Another potential factor being watched closely is a sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event over the North Pole. An SSW is when the stratosphere warms sharply – 50 degrees or more in just a few days – miles above the Earth’s surface.

A significant SSW event can sometimes have an influence on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere. If an SSW event does happen as we enter January, then Crawford suspects any such influence from it might not happen until much later in January or into February.

January’s Typical Temperatures

January is the coldest month of the year for most areas east of the Rockies, so even with above average temperatures in some areas, it will still be chilly at times.

In the South, highs usually range from the 40s to the 70s. The Midwest and Northeast have average highs ranging from the 10s to the 30s.

Highs in the West typically range from the 40s on the Pacific Northwest coast to the 60s in the Southwest.

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January’s Average High Temperatures

Lows in the single digits above and below zero are common in the upper Midwest, Northern Plains and northern New England in January. Blasts of arctic air can send temperatures to levels much colder than this for periods of time.

Lows in the teens and 20s are typical from other parts of the Northeast and Midwest into the Rockies.

The South usually sees lows bottom out in the 30s and 40s. South Florida is the mildest location with average lows in the 50s.

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