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January the 4th-warmest in more than a century

By Sean Morris, CNN Meteorologist
updated 2:07 PM EST, Wed February 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Several cities shattered or tied their record high temperatures for January
  • Temperatures in Iowa haven't dipped below zero yet this winter
  • The warmer weather is cutting back on home heating costs

(CNN) -- Dogwood and daffodils are abloom across the South, a fact that's not really that unusual until you look at the calendar -- it's only the first week of February.

The blossom confusion is due to the unusually warm conditions across that region and most of the rest of the United States, with the temperatures from last month making it the fourth warmest January in 117 years, the National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday.

Several cities across the United States shattered or tied their record high temperatures for the month.

In the northern Plains, where it's usually very frigid this time of year, tulips are already sprouting in Iowa due to the warm weather. Iowa broke a 98-year-old record for the latest winter day reached without hitting a zero degree temperature, the National Weather Service said. The lowest temperature so far this season recorded at the Des Moines airport was 1 degree above zero.

The unseasonably warm weather could spell disaster for these early bloomers. With several weeks of winter left on the calendar, killing frosts and freezes are still possible. If the temperature dips below freezing, the blooms will die and fall to the ground, not coming back until next year. If fruit trees bloom too early, a cold snap could kill the blossoms, preventing the trees from bearing fruit.

However, the warm weather does have an upside -- it's reducing home heating costs, putting more money in consumers' pockets. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, inventories of natural gas in storage are at significant margins above previous years' levels. The abundance in storage inventories is the result of reduced natural gas consumption this year due to the warm temperatures this winter. Natural gas prices have come close to 10-year lows, the administration said.

Many cities across the United States are also experiencing below-normal snowfall. January had the third-smallest snow cover on record for that month, according to Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

So far this season, Boston has only recorded 7.8 inches of snow. The city's Department of Public Works has only spent $1.5 million of their $17.1 million allotted for snow removal for the entire season. This is great news for the city's budget, which went over its projected snow removal budget last winter.

But will the warm temperatures persist through the rest of the season? Not necessarily. Some of the coldest Arctic outbreaks in the lower contiguous United States have occurred in February. One of the most infamous blizzards, 1993's "Storm of the Century," occurred during the first week of March. Don't let your guard down yet!

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