A seagull consumes a meal, with the Washington Monument reflected in the background. (Angela N./Flickr)

Less than an inch of rain and melted snow accumulated in January in Washington, following four straight months of below-normal precipitation. In response, a severe drought was declared for the District, Baltimore and the adjacent Interstate 95 corridor.

January’s precipitation output of 0.94 inches was 1.87 inches below normal in the District, the driest since 1981’s 0.38 inches. All but three months in 2017 were drier than normal, including the entire fall.

From September to January, Washington racked up a precipitation deficit of more than nine inches. The total precipitation of 6.89 inches ranks as the third-driest September-to-January period on record.

The Federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor now places most of the greater Washington and Baltimore region in at least moderate drought, with severe drought lining Interstate 95:

February looks likely to lean drier, as well, thanks to the La Niña pattern, which tends to favor below-normal precipitation. Although the lack of water is not a huge concern during the winter, if February and March also end up dry, the effects on agriculture and water availability could become significant by the spring.

“While this is not particularly the time of year for significant agricultural impacts, some issues have been noted with winter wheat due to the lack of rain and late planting,” the National Weather Service’s drought statement said. “County extension agents are also reporting very dry conditions with concerns that wells could go dry.”

In January, snow was measly, too, with 1.2 inches falling over the course of two events, the lowest total in the month since 2013’s 0.9 inches.

Four of the 10 driest Januarys on record since the late 1800s have now occurred in the 2000s:

Temperatures

January’s temperature took a huge roller coaster ride, with bitter cold early in the month shifting toward a warmer middle and mixed ending.

Last-minute colder-than-normal weather helped the month close 0.3 degrees below normal. It marked the first time both December and January have been colder than normal in Washington since the 2010-2011 La Niña winter.

Extremes

January can be our most volatile month in terms of temperatures, and this year wasn’t an exception, with a 60-degree spread from coldest (8) to warmest (68). The precipitation extremes, as one might expect, were underwhelming:


The following records were set over the course of January:

Washington:

  • Jan. 12: Record warm low temperature of 57 bests 51 from 2017.

Dulles:

  • Jan. 1: Record cold high temperature of 23 bests 26 from  1977.
  • Jan. 2: Record low temperature of 1 bests 8 from 1979 and 1971.
  • Jan. 5: Record cold high temperature of 19 bests 21 from 1968.
  • Jan. 7: Record low temperature of minus-1 bests 1 from 2014.
  • Jan. 12: Record high temperature of 70 ties 2017.
  • Jan. 12: Record warm low temperature of 58 bests 49 from 2017.
  • Jan. 21: Record high temperature of 63 bests 62 from 2006.
  • Jan. 22: Record warm low temperature of 48 bests 46 from 2017.
  • Jan. 28: Record warm low temperature of 45 bests  35 from 1988.

Baltimore:

  • Jan. 7: Record low of 1 bests 3 from 2014.
  • Jan. 12: Record warm low temperature of 53 bests 49 from 2017.

January’s weather pattern

January saw large temperature variations over the Lower 48. Compared to normal, the Southeast was coldest and West was warmest.  The Mid-Atlantic barely held on to slightly colder-than-normal conditions.

 


January forecast review

We predicted January temperatures would be 2 to 4 degrees colder than normal, and they ended up 0.3 degrees colder than normal. So we had the right direction but overestimated the intensity.

We called for near-normal snowfall of about 5.6 inches, which, given the actual amount of 1.2 inches, was a significant overestimate.

Our forecast for slightly below-normal precipitation (a deficit of 0.25 to 0.75 inches) was in the right direction but an underestimate considering the actual deficit of 1.87 inches.

Overall, we’d give our outlook a grade of B since we leaned cold and dry but were off on the intensities.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments.