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Tornadoes, Ice Highlight January Weather

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Oklahoma’s January 2023 may have begun with a springlike bang, but it ended with a more appropriate wintry punch. Warm weather dominated the first three weeks of the month, and was on pace to become one of the warmest Januarys on record before winter crashed the party. The early springlike weather also brought Oklahoma its earliest tornadoes within the calendar year since accurate records began in 1950. On Jan. 2, severe storms developed across northeastern Oklahoma and quickly became tornadic, producing five confirmed tornadoes according to the National Weather Service. Not only were the twisters the earliest on record, but the total was also the highest for any January since 1950, besting the four touchdowns recorded in 1957, 1967, 2008, and 2021. The five twisters were generally weak, but still produced damage to homes, outbuildings, and trees. An EF-0 tornado that touched down near Pryor moved over the Oklahoma Mesonet site there, producing a wind gust of 81 mph.

Highs in the 60s and 70s during January’s first three weeks were replaced with snow, sleet, and freezing rain over the month’s final 10 days. The first winter storm on Jan. 23-24 brought the type of picturesque snowfall rarely seen in Oklahoma. Temperatures hovered near freezing in the state, which helped produce snowflakes to the size of half-dollars that fell into a near windless environment, an oddity on most days in Oklahoma. West central Oklahoma saw 6-8 inches of snow with Erick leading the state at 8.9 inches. Locations in central and eastern Oklahoma reported 4-6 inches, and nearly everybody saw at least some snow, albeit briefly. The second winter storm struck just a few days later, but this version was accompanied by frigid arctic air with highs in the teens and 20s and wind chills in the single digits to below zero. There were two separate waves of frozen precipitation over the month’s final two days. Thunder-sleet greeted Oklahomans to start the day on the 30th, the convective activity dumping 1-1.5 inches of sleet along the Interstate 44 corridor. Freezing rain fell across southern Oklahoma, enough to glaze trees and other exposed objects. The second round early on the 31st brought more sleet and freezing rain across southern and central Oklahoma, but not quite as widespread as the previous day.

The statewide average temperature finished at 41.9 degrees for the month, 3.6 degrees above normal and ranked as the 15th warmest January since records began in 1895. The highest reading of the month, 85 degrees, was recorded at Burneyville on the 11th. Temperatures of at least 80 degrees were recorded 14 times across three days at the 120 Mesonet sites, and at least 70 degrees 374 times on 10 separate days. The lowest January temperature was 2 degrees at Boise City on Jan. 30 and again at Eva on Jan. 31. The lowest wind chill was minus 14 degrees at Eva, Goodwell, and Hooker, all on Jan. 30.

Statewide average precipitation finished with a preliminary total of 1.17 inches for the month, 0.4 inches below normal and ranked as the 58th driest January since records began in 1895. That monthly total was expected to rise as frozen precipitation continued to melt and be accounted for across much of the southeastern two-thirds of the state. Far eastern Oklahoma had the greatest totals of 3-4 inches, with a few localized areas with 4-5 inches evident on radar estimates. Much of the western half of the state ended with less than an inch of precipitation, the Mesonet site at Eva’s 0.14 inches bringing up the rear.

There was little change in Oklahoma’s drought situation in January, with 89% of the state in at least moderate drought at the end of the month according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Climate Prediction Center’s February precipitation outlook indicates increased odds for above normal precipitation across the eastern four-fifths of the state, but especially for the eastern one-third of Oklahoma. The temperature outlook shows increased odds of above normal temperatures for far southeastern Oklahoma. The hopeful precipitation outlook leads to CPC’s February drought forecast of improvements across the eastern one-third of the state. Drought is expected to persist across the western two-thirds, however.