Joe Lundberg

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A January Thaw for the Ages

January 6, 2012; 10:20 AM ET

Friday, 10:55 a.m.

Wow! That's about all I can say about Thursday. Talk about a blowtorch! Get a lot of the highs (many of them records) from yesterday:

The one in Philip, S.D., was just stunning; 74 in west-central South Dakota in January? The average high is 34 there. The standing record was 46! Granted, I don't believe it is a site with a long period of records, as the 73 in Rapid City only torched the old record by a measly 13 degrees. Still, crushing records by double digits at any time of the year is quite an accomplishment in my book.

And we're not done yet. The air mass aloft remains very mild and springlike, and with sunshine and any kind of a breeze over a bare ground, temperatures will rocket into the 50s and 60s over a broad area from the Plains to the mid-Atlantic states, with some 70s along the way. I do believe this will qualify as a January thaw, as the first day of the month was cold in the Plains and northern Rockies (though hardly below normal).

Even though a 'cold front' is moving into the Plains and through the Midwest today, the air behind the front is hardly cold. It just goes from record-obliterating warmth to near-record warmth. Then it reloads ahead of the arctic front early next week. Look at the GFS temperature anomaly forecast for Tuesday:

It will come to a crashing end behind that front next week, but that front will come after the storm forming over Texas Monday has moved on by, which means that storm is almost exclusively going to be a rainstorm, contrary to what you may have seen and heard. It will turn cold enough for the lake-effect snow to return Thursday and Friday, but I suspect the snow may be less in the end than we saw this week with the arctic outbreak.

In fact, when push comes to shove, the biggest temperature anomalies behind this front late next week will be across the South and Southeast yet again, not the Midwest and not even the Northeast. The cold will last a few days in the area, as long of a period of below-normal weather as we have seen so far this winter season for these areas, but it should much more quickly turn around in the northern and central Plains and Midwest - once again. It may not get as warm as we're seeing now - that would be just about impossible to pull off, quite frankly - but the warmth should easily outdo any cold interlude.

Going forward, I remain unconvinced of this being a full-blown pattern change. I see the expansion of the polar vortex. I see the stratospheric warming over western Canada (which has now begun to cool a little, by the way). But I still don't see blocking in the Atlantic:

Furthermore, I continue to stare at the European weeklies that refuse to budge on their position of a warm pattern from the eastern Rockies to the East on the whole right into early February. Their 500mb forecasts don't show any blocking, either. There are still too few things lining up to convince me it's turning colder to stay cold for a while. Maybe it'll happen, but right now, I'm not on that train just yet.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Joe Lundberg
Joe Lundberg, a veteran AccuWeather.com forecaster and meteorologist, covers both short and long-term U.S. weather on this blog.