updated 2/7/2006 4:38:32 PM ET 2006-02-07T21:38:32

January was a fair-weather friend.

Recording the warmest January on record allowed Americans to save on their heating bills. But like all good things, last month’s mildness seems to have been too good to last.

The country’s average temperature for the month was 39.5 degrees Fahrenheit, 8.5 degrees above average for January, the National Climatic Data Center said Tuesday. The old record for January warmth was 37.3 degrees set in 1953.

On the other hand, while much of the United States was basking in warm weather, parts of Europe and Asia were being battered by bitter cold. Climate details for the rest of the world for January are expected to be available next week.

During the month the jet stream, a strong high-altitude wind that guides weather fronts from west to east, stayed unusually far to the north, keeping the coldest air in Canada and Alaska, the agency said.

Keeping that cold air to the north allowed mild Pacific air to moderate temperatures across the contiguous states, leading to the warm conditions.

Jet stream shifting
However, the jet stream is now sliding into a more typical winter pattern, according to the Climate Prediction Center. The February outlook calls for below-normal temperatures in the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast and intermountain West, and above-normal temperatures in the Southwest, the northern Plains and Alaska.

Both centers are part of the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The records go back to 1895 when detailed climate records began being collected.

During January, none of the 48 contiguous states had below-average temperatures — and 15 states in the northern Plains, Great Lakes and Midwest had record high temperatures for the month.

More than 74 percent of the country was classified as “much above normal” when compared to the 1961-1990 climate normal. The Climate Data Center said that only twice since 1895 has more than 74 percent of the nation had a much above-normal temperature — March 1910 and November 1999.

Energy break
The record high temperatures helped reduce residential energy needs for the nation as a whole, NCDC reported. NOAA’s Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index, which related energy use to climate, was at its lowest January value on record. NOAA scientists estimated the nation’s residential energy demand was 20 percent less than would have occurred under average climate conditions.

Among the locations recording the warmest January on record were Bismarck, N.D.; Wichita, Kan.; Blacksburg, Va.; and Rochester, Minn. For the Twin Cities in Minnesota, it was only the second January since 1891 in which the mercury did not dip below zero.

By state, it was the warmest January on record for Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin. It was the second warmest January in New York, Kentucky and Wyoming.

On the other hand, north of the jet stream, temperatures across Alaska were much-below average. Fairbanks reached a minimum temperature of -51 F Jan. 27, with a high of only -40 F for that day.

NASA scientists recently reported that 2005 had edged out 1998 as the warmest year on record worldwide. NOAA researchers, however, said their analysis placed the two years in a statistical dead heat.

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