It's been nearly a week, but some (or most!) of us are still reeling from the recent arctic outbreak that sent our temperatures plummeting below zero to end the month of January. It was a final push that sent our average temperature for the month into the below-average range. It wasn't just the temperatures that made this one of the more brutal winter months we've experienced recently. Snow for the month of January came in at nearly twice the monthly average, with snow covering the ground for over half the month in Champaign-Urbana. It didn't start out feeling very wintry though — let's take a look back.
We started the month of January on the warm side — quite warm at times! The first eight days of January were all warmer than average, with January 5-8 coming in over 15 degrees warmer than average with daily high temperatures in the upper 50s at times. During this stretch our overnight low temperatures were more in line with typical high temperatures for this time of year, in the lower 30s.
The script was flipped on January 8th when a cold front sent us on a tumble from a high temperature of 50 degrees on the 8th, to a high of only 30 degrees the following day. We never saw 50 degrees again after that, and only touched the 40s once.
Following the cool-down, temperatures in Champaign-Urbana were fairly well-behaved. That is to say, the rollercoaster had parked itself in the shed for a bit and we were able to achieve a bit of consistency with the high temperature every day from January 10-19 topping out between 29 and 36 degrees. Perhaps I'm easily impressed, but 10 consecutive days with a range of only 7 degrees it's pretty darned stable for our neck of the woods.
The bottom fell out after that with multiple waves of bitterly cold air. We got our first wave of arctic air on January 20th which sent our overnight lows into the single-digits for a pair of nights. The next wave took things a step further with lows of -1 on January 25th and 26th. And then, the knock-out punch was delivered on January 29th when our temperature fell below zero and remained there until the afternoon of the 31st. We set a new record low temperature of -17 on January 30th, and set a new record for the coldest high temperature for that date with a high of -2.
The average temperature for January 2019 comes in at 24.1 degrees, 0.7 degrees below average.
The most ridiculous part of that incredible arctic invasion? My sump pump never stopped running — because not only was January cold, it was much wetter than average.
January is typically our coldest month of the year. Cold air doesn't hold much moisture. As such, January is often our driest month annually averaging only 2.05" of liquid precipitation. Of that 2.05" of liquid, we average 5.3" of snow in January.
We got off to a fast start with half of our monthly average falling on January 1st when we picked up 1.03". We then saw precipitation on 19 of 31 days the rest of the month. The first big snow of the winter arrived on the weekend of January 12-13 with 6.5" falling in the Twin Cities. The next weekend featured a bit of a dud of a winter storm with rain and sleet stealing the show from potential snow. Snow mostly came in small doses after that, but we did receive another 1.5" on the 26th.
The wet basement and exhausted sump pump issue arose during the last week or so of the month. On January 23rd we received 1.29" of rain and then temperatures crashed below freezing, which froze all of the water that had fallen as rain coupled with the standing water from recent snow melt. Then on January 28th we rose back above freezing, melted all of that ice that had been standing around along with a little more snow, added about 0.2" more liquid rain.
The water that had seeped into my basement as a result of the heavy rain on the 23rd was mostly dried up by the time the polar vortex sent us to the arctic, but my sump pump has only recently gone on a well deserved vacation.
At the end of the month 3.85" of liquid precipitation had fallen, which falls just shy of doubling the monthly average. 9.8" of snow fell in January which again, nearly doubled the monthly average of 5.3".
So January was cold, and active. What does February have in store?
Well, we're off to a warm start but change is on the horizon. After the first week comes in warmer than average, it's likely that we'll start to moderate a bit toward more seasonally appropriate temperatures as we head into the middle part of the month. What happens after that is a bit more uncertain. Right now, I'm hedging on the side of February ending above-average overall. Barely. I think we get there with a warm start to the month, closer to average/below-average temperatures mid-month, and then potentially a turn toward warmer weather again during the end of the month.
Precipitation will likely come in near or above average. February is typically another dry month, but given the right weather pattern it can be quite the opposite which we saw in 2018. A wet start in the first week of the month will likely get us nearly half way to our monthly average. We'll quiet down a bit mid-month, but given the tendancy lately for Central Illinois to end up near or in the most active storm track this winter I'd be surprised if we don't see another major storm system or two move through the region during the last half of the month.
When all is said and done, I think we're looking back on a February that was overall both slightly warmer and wetter than average in Champaign-Urbana.
Andrew operates Chambana Weather, where he publishes daily weather information for Champaign-Urbana and surrounding communities. He is also an agricultural meteorologist with Nutrien Ag Solutions at Research Park, focused on domestic and international weather and its impact on ag.
Champaign-Urbana monthly climate statistics are courtesy of the Illinois State Water Survey.
Photo by Andrew Pritchard