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Was January warmest on record in US? The answer is...

Hard as it may be to believe if you live in the Northeast or upper Midwest, last January was not the warmest on record across the lower 48 states, federal recordkeepers announced Tuesday.

It was warm -- but only the fourth warmest since records began in 1895 and nowhere near the record set in 2006, the National Climatic Data Center reported.


The average temperature last month was 36.3 degrees Fahrenheit -- 5.5 degrees above the 1901-2000 average. The record is 39.7 degrees, followed by 37.2 in 1990 and 1953.

As for snow cover, last month was the third smallest for a January in 40 years that those records have been kept.

Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the center, told msnbc.com that he wasn't surprised last month didn't set a warmth record given that there were "a couple of cold outbreaks" during that time.

But a few data points did jump out at him: Minnesota saw a record warm December-January that was 10.1 degrees above average.

Moreover, no state was cooler than average and only two (Florida and Washington) were near average.

Nine others -- Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming -- saw January temps among their 10 warmest.

"Many locations across the Northern Plains exceeded all-time warm January maximum temperatures," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a statement, including Minot, N.D., which got to 61 degrees on Jan. 5 -- topping its previous record of 59 set on Jan. 28, 1906. The center is part of NOAA.

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For the Northeast, it was only the 16th warmest January on record, but the 10th consecutive month that the region averaged warmer than normal.

So is the warmth tied to climate change? Scientists can't make that connection on such a short timescale, Crouch said. "We are seeing a long-term trend of warming winters," he added, "but there are a lot of factors in any given month."

And while it was warm across the continental U.S., Alaskans can tell you they've had it bitterly cold.

The federal recordkeepers made note of that, reporting several towns had their coldest average January temperatures on record: Bethel (-17.3 degrees F); Bettles (-35.6 degrees F); McGrath (-28.5 degrees F); and Nome (-16.6 degrees F). 

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