• Outdoor Radio: The Annual January Thaw – Real or Fantasy?

    Mark Breen heads outdoors with Sara and Kent to check the weather station on a bitter cold January day.

    In much of the Northern Hemisphere the coldest day of the year, on average, falls on January 23. During the final week of January, temperatures are thought to show a slight increase, and subsequent dip. The ‘January thaw’, as it has been named, is said to last for about a week. Nearly a decade ago, researchers from Cornell University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aimed to find out if this piece of meteorological folklore was fact or fiction. Their analysis published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in 2002 concluded that “the effects of sampling in finite climate records are wholly adequate to account for the existence of January thaw “features” in northeastern U.S. temperature data.” They also state, “While this powerful human capacity to find order in nature has served and continues to serve us extremely well, it also sometimes leads us to falsely impute meaning to chance events.” In other words, it’s all in our heads. There is no January thaw in the records according to their analysis.

    In our heads? There’s no January thaw? Many Vermonters beg to differ! Luckily, we have the second longest running weather station in the country at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. In the past 125 years, only two Januarys have stayed below freezing for the entire month. Some Vermonters relish a period of warmer temperatures while others lament the melting snow. Is there such a thing as an annual January thaw?

    In this episode of Outdoor Radio, Kent McFarland and Sara Zahendra begin inside the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury to talk with meteorologist Mark Breen about whether or not a January thaw exists. Mark Breen has been going through the records of the museum and has made some surprising observations about the temperature patterns during the month of January. Join us and learn a bit more about the fabled January thaw and visit the weather station outside the museum where it has been located for over 125 years and counting!

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    Although the weather station uses modern equipment too, they also deploy the same exact kind of equipment that they started with over 125 years ago. Here are standard thermometers that were just like those used a century ago. This helps ensure a continual record using the same devices in the same spot. Imagine each day at 4 PM for over 125 years, a person has walked out of the museum to this weather station and recorded the temperature!

    Outdoor Radio is produced in collaboration with Vermont Public Radio.

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