January 25, 2006 | By: Aimee Nielson

So far, January is the fourth warmest on record, with temperatures averaging about 10 degrees higher than normal for this time of the year. University of Kentucky Agricultural Meteorologist Tom Priddy said Kentucky has dodged the normal cold and snowy conditions because the state has been on the warm side of the jet stream.

“We’ve had a few short cold spells with only minor shots of snow in Kentucky,” Priddy said. “In parts of the western United States, especially states like Colorado, bitter cold conditions and more than 200 inches of snowfall have prevailed. One good thing about the ‘warm’ spell is that heating bills may not be as high as initially predicted for this time of year.”

Priddy also noted that weak La Niña conditions have developed in the past few months. The development of La Niña results in the displacement of the jet stream, which is a narrow band of high-energy winds at about 30,000 feet. 

“Since weather systems travel along the jet stream, the displacement of the jet stream shifts weather patterns,” Priddy said. “This causes wet conditions where dry conditions would normally exist and dry conditions where wet conditions normally occur.”

La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El Niño, which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

“La Niña conditions, if they continue into the summer months, usually spell drought for Kentucky, which isn’t what our state’s agricultural producers want to hear,” Priddy said. “Kentucky and the Ohio Valley tend to be impacted more in the summer months than in the winter months with La Niñas that develop to the medium to strong stage.”

Some regions of Kentucky never climbed out of the 2005 drought. Despite recent heavy rainfall, bluegrass and eastern Kentucky climate zones remain in moderate drought according the latest Palmer Drought Severity Index released Jan. 23. Priddy said both regions need nearly 6 inches of rain to end hydrologic drought. 

The national precipitation outlook for February, March and April calls for drier than normal conditions in the extreme southeast, southwest and central plains. Priddy said this is a consistent response to a weak La Niña and is present, to some degree, among most seasonal forecast tools.

“For the short term, we are going to see above average temperatures continue in February and March,” Priddy said. “If La Niña conditions continue to develop similar to the strong La Niña conditions as in 1998, Kentucky would suffer from a very wet spring and very dry June thru October.”



Tom Priddy 859-257-3000, ext. 245