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January could be warmest on record in U.S.

January 2006 is in the running to be ranked among the warmest Januarys the United States has ever seen, meteorologists are saying.
/ Source: Reuters

January is in the running to be ranked among the warmest the United States has ever seen, meteorologists are saying.

That may be good news for homeowners who gave their furnaces a break in the midst of record energy prices -- but it may also have caused havoc for businesses from ski resorts to snowmobile companies that depend on the usual frosty winter weather for their profits.

“Coast to coast, this is one of the warmest Januarys we have seen. So it’s safe to say it will be in the top 10, or maybe the top 5,” said Dale Mohler, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, a private weather forecaster based in State College, Penn.

AccuWeather said that just about every part of the country, barring the extreme southern sections of California and Florida, will record higher-than-normal temperatures for the month, which is typically one of the coldest and snowiest.

The core of the warmth has been in the Midwest and northern Plains -- a big market for natural gas -- with cities like Cleveland and Minneapolis averaging temperatures as much as 15 degrees above normal.

“It could be the warmest on record in the Chicago/Minneapolis area,” said Todd Crawford, long-range forecaster for WSI Corp., another private forecaster.

Since hitting a record in mid-December, natural gas prices have been cut in half by the mild weather, but other fuels like heating oil remain lofty as geopolitical worries keep crude oil near $70 a barrel.

The U.S. government said it would not know exactly where this January ranks in terms of being the warmest until mid-February, by which time many forecasters expect to see colder-than-normal temperatures.

But John Lesley, a spokesman for the National Climactic Data Center, said that “based on preliminary information through January 27, this will be one of the warmest.”

The NCDC said officially the warmest January on record was 1953 at 37.1 degrees Fahrenheit across the nation. Second and third are 1990 (36.9 F) and 1934 (35.7 F).

A warm January, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily mean winter has given up for the year.

“Winter is anything but over,” said Pete Geiger, editor of the Farmers’ Almanac, which has been tracking U.S. weather for about 200 years. “February is going to bring some cold stretches.”