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Winter Returns in January

Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Winter arrived with conviction at the dawn of the new year in Oklahoma and delivered a startling counterpunch to the record-shattering heat of December. At least five strong cold fronts traversed the state during January, each one drawing Oklahoma back into a more familiar winter mindset as memories of December’s warmth faded. The disparity in the hours below freezing as measured by the Oklahoma Mesonet was demonstrative of the difference between the two winter months. During December, most of the state spent between 50 and 150 hours below freezing. Eufaula had the fewest freezing hours with only 18. In January, those times were more than tripled to between 250 and 400 hours, and Durant’s 196 hours was a far greater lowest total. One aspect of the weather that both months shared was the lack of moisture and resulting drought intensification. Drought coverage actually decreased by 2% across the state from 90% at the end of December to 88% at the end of January according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The amount of extreme and exceptional drought, the two worst categories used by the Monitor, had more than doubled from 23% to 49% over that period. Only 4% had satisfactory moisture conditions at month’s end, contained within a small area of far east central Oklahoma. Significant snowfall remained scarce, although small patches of the state reported 2 to 5 inches for the month.

According to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the statewide average precipitation total was 0.52 inches to rank as the 20th driest January on record dating back to 1895, 1.05 inches below normal. No part of Oklahoma experienced a surplus during January, with most of the state falling below 25% of normal. Talihina led the Mesonet totals at 1.86 inches, while Foraker had the least with a meager 0.06 inches. Twelve other Mesonet sites failed to eclipse a tenth of an inch during the month, while another 24 sites fell below a quarter-inch of precipitation. Only 17 sites managed to reach above an inch, all across the eastern half of the state. Combine January with the dreadfully dry December and the first two months of climatological winter falls to the 12th driest on record with a statewide average of 1.4 inches, 2.28 inches below normal. For the Panhandle and north central Oklahoma, it was the third and second driest such periods, respectively. Nearly all areas of the state fell 1 to 3 inches below normal during the first two months of winter.

The statewide average temperature finished at 37 degrees, 1.3 degrees below normal and ranked as the 59th coldest January since records began in 1895. That’s a remarkable departure from December 2021’s statewide average of 50.4 degrees, a difference of 13.4 degrees between the two winter months. January’s highest reading of 78 degrees came at Waurika on the 18th. Eva recorded the lowest January temperature with minus 6 degrees on Jan. 2. The wind chill at Eva reached as low as minus 22 degrees to lead the Mesonet in that January category as well. There were 43 wind chill values of less than minus 10 degrees across the 120 Mesonet sites during the month. Combined, the first two months of climatological winter finished at 43.7 degrees statewide, the second warmest such period since records began in 1895 and 4.5 degrees above normal. Only the December 1922-January 1923 mark of 44.1 degrees was higher.

The February drought outlook from the Climate Prediction Center does not hold much hope for improvement, save for far southeastern Oklahoma where some relief is noted. Persistence is indicated elsewhere. The temperature outlook maintains equal chances of above-, below-, and near-normal temperatures, and there is only a small sliver of southeastern Oklahoma with increased odds of above normal precipitation according to the precipitation outlook. February is the second driest calendar month for Oklahoma, therefore above normal precipitation would be necessary to impact drought conditions.