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Hippie New Year

Steve Scolnik @ 4:40 PM

It's back to the 60s in the Washington DC metro area this afternoon as a warm front which had been lurking just to the north through Pennsylvania has advanced as far as southern New England. Through central Virginia, mid 60s were common by 1pm, and several spots reached 70 by mid afternoon, including as close as Stafford. The regional radar is clear for several hundred miles.

Weather map at 1pm today from HPC/NWS/NOAA

Tonight and Tomorrow

There may be some gusty winds as a cold front passes through early this evening. For tonight, lows will be around 39 under partly cloudy skies. Tomorrow, clouds will increase toward evening with highs near 50.

Climatological Context

We don't want to add to the pain of the snow lovers (We feel it too.), but as Jason has already noted, January has had some spectacular warm spells in the past here in the nation's capital. Every date in January has a record high of 70 or above, except for the 1st, 3rd, 8th, and 18th; the lowest of those was 68 on the 3rd in 2000. Besides 1932, the early 1950s were also notable for warm Januarys, with 8 still-standing daily records set from 1950 to 1953, including the all-time January high of 79 in 1950. The January of 1950 was the most extreme, with records early in the month (6th and 10th) followed by a 3-day run on the 24th-26th which culminated in the all-time monthly record. Overall, the January 1950 record monthly average of 48 was 1.2 degrees above the 2nd warmest in 1932, and more than 4 degrees above the 3rd place holder of 1890. By contrast, this January is averaging only 39.8 through yesterday, putting it in a tie for 22nd on the all-time record list.

Before anybody gets carried away by the fact that so many warm blasts from the past were half a century or more ago, please note that these extreme events have little if anything to do with the question of climate change. Earth's climate is the long-term average of conditions at many widespread locations. While extreme events at particular locations do contribute to the average, their total weight is very small compared to the accumulated effect of day-to-day conditions. In other words, the extremes are much further from the average than the amount of any change in the average itself.

If Pigs Could Swim

Along the lines we have discussed recently regarding weather sensationalism, the online WaPo and others, including the Seattle P-I, have posted an AP article, "Weather Has Become Bogeyman, News Staple" The article points out how media, especially TV, increasingly hype weather events in order to attract audiences. This is enhanced by the fact that people don't have an accurate sense of the relative danger from various risks. Sociologist Barry Glassner says,
"We are living in a period now when we are just as fearful about common dangers like bad weather as we are about unusually serious dangers like Category 4 hurricanes. We feel the world is out of control in many ways, politically and economically. So it makes sense to imagine the weather is out of control, too."
Pigs kill more people than sharks, but who gets the media attention? More people are killed in vehicle accidents every single month than have ever been killed by terrorist attacks in this country, but which issue dominates the political discussion? For some perspective on the subject of risk, check out the Colbert Report Threatdown on Comedy Central, and watch out for bears.

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