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Warm and Wet January Greets New Year

Published: Tuesday, February 2, 2021
The winter storm that began the year captured January’s biggest weather headline. The event straddled the changeover from 2020 to 2021, with as much as 10 inches of snow falling in Vici on New Year’s Day. Reports of 4-8 inches were widespread across the northwestern half of the state. Seasonal totals through January climbed to nearly 3 feet across northwestern Oklahoma. The National Weather Service cooperative observer at Arnett reported 34.3 inches since late October, 24.1 inches more than their entire normal seasonal total of 10.2 inches. Gate had received 31.1 inches during that same period. Six other sites had reported at least 20 inches of snow for the season through January, all in northwestern Oklahoma. Outside of the northwest, Piedmont led the way with 18.6 inches. Severe weather was rare during the month, but at least two tornadoes were spotted on the 30th in far northern Nowata County—the first two such reports of 2021 in Oklahoma. Non-thunderstorm winds gusted up to 65 mph on the 14th, prompting a dust storm warning for the Oklahoma Panhandle.

According to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the statewide average temperature was 39.5 degrees for the month, 1.8 degrees above normal, to rank as the 34th warmest January since records began in 1895. The highest reading came on Jan. 30 when the Oklahoma Mesonet sites at Altus, Durant, and Tipton all reached a maximum temperature of 73 degrees. The lowest temperature was 2 degrees recorded at Kenton on the 27th. Wind chills dropped to below zero on that day across northern Oklahoma, with Hooker bottoming out at -11 degrees. The first two months of the climatological winter, which runs December-February, have been on the warm side at 1.9 degrees above normal. The statewide average of 40.2 degrees ranks as the 30th warmest December-January on record.

Parts of southwestern through northeastern Oklahoma experienced an unusually wet January, thanks to the generous snowfall to start the year and three subsequent storm systems throughout the month. Surpluses ranged from about an inch in the southwest to a little over 4 inches in the northeast. Southern Oklahoma saw widespread deficits of up to 1.5 inches, with smaller shortfalls across the far northwest. Altogether, the statewide average was 1.75 inches, 0.19 inches above normal, to rank as the 44th wettest January on record. Northeastern, north central, and west central Oklahoma enjoyed their 12th, 16th, and 17th wettest Januarys on record, respectively. South central Oklahoma suffered a deficit of 0.74 inches to rank as their 47th driest January on record. The Mesonet site at Copan led the state with 5.58 inches while Boise City brought up the rear with 0.24 inches. Forty-two Mesonet sites received at least 2 inches of precipitation for the month. The first two months of winter were the 21st wettest on record with a statewide average of 4.34 inches, 0.72 inches above normal.

Drought took a tumble in Oklahoma during January. The wet month allowed a drop in drought coverage from 25% at the end of December to 11% exiting January. Drought that had been intensifying across south central Oklahoma was eradicated entirely. The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) outlooks for February see increased odds of below normal temperatures across the northern half of the state, and above normal temperatures across the eastern third. Outside of those areas, equal chances exist for above-, below-, and near-normal temperatures and precipitation. CPC’s February drought outlook expects a static map, with neither development nor removal of drought by the end of the month. February is normally a relatively dry month in Oklahoma. Therefore, near- or below-normal precipitation combined with near- or below-normal temperatures would not be favorable conditions for drought development.