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It's been a warm January, but warmest?

Temperatures are rising around the nation, making for an unusually warm January. Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore reports.

How soon we forget. Sure, this last month has been warmer than average across the lower 48 states, but the record for warmest January was set just six years ago in January 2006 and it's too soon to tell if that will fall.

Deke Arndt, chief of the National Climatic Data Center's monitoring service, told msnbc.com that he can't rule out a record. "It's too early for us to call shots" on just where January 2012 will end up, he said, "but it has been quite warm so far and we expect it to finish in the top 15 or 20," based on records dating back to 1895. The official report for January comes out on Feb. 7, he added.

Weather.com meteorologist Stu Ostro noted that Jan. 1-23 in 2006 was warmer than the same period this year. "So at least as of that point this January was running well behind the record pace," he told msnbc.com.

With the exception of Alaska, which is seeing record cold and snow, the warmer temperatures have been widespread. 

Michael J. Crumb / AP

These golfers in Des Moines, Iowa, were out on the course on Jan. 5 as temperatures reached 60 degrees.

Areas that saw above average temperatures cover "a rather large amount of real estate in the U.S. from coast-to-coast," is how weather.com meteorologist Chris Dolce put it in his look back. "In fact, the only places that have experienced overall below-average temperatures this month are the far Southeast (southern Florida) and far Northwest corners (western Washington and Oregon) of the country!"

The map below illustrates that, with above average temps seen in orange, red and brown.

Another measure is how many localities have reported record highs or lows for a given day in January. Turns out, nearly 2,800 daily record highs were tied or broken through last week. As for daily record lows, only 160 of those were reported.

Arndt cited two key factors impacting climate this last month. A La Nina cycle is in place, and typically that means colder and snowier winters in the northern U.S. But La Nina's impact was tempered by cold Arctic air being blocked from moving south by a shift in what's known as the Arctic Oscillation.

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The warm spell has also meant more tornadoes this month than normal. This month looks set to be the third busiest January on record, with 74 so far. That compares to 218 in January 1999 and 88 in January 2008.


This chart shows how far off an individual year was from the mean for January temperatures in the continental U.S.


Back in 2006, news media reported the lack of winter as well. In Duluth, Minn., folks were flying kites and wearing shorts on Jan. 28, 2006. One widely reported upside back then, as now: lower heating bills.