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And the northern and eastern United States can expect another blast of cold weather next week.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday that Earth was 1.17 degrees warmer in January than the 20th century average. Since records began in 1880, only 2002, 2003 and 2007 started off warmer than this year.
Almost all of Africa, South America and Australia and most of Asia and Europe were considerably warmer than normal. China and France had their second warmest Januaries. Land in the entire Southern Hemisphere was hottest for January on record.
While more than half of America shivered last month, it was one of the few populated spots on Earth cooler than normal. The opposite happened in 2012, when the United States had its warmest year ever and the globe was only the eleventh hottest on record.
Looking ahead, forecasters are seeing a large area of temperatures much below normal starting midweek in the upper Midwest and then plunging south. But it won't be quite as frigid as the deep freeze of early January that came from the polar vortex, said meteorologist Dan Collins of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The polar vortex is a high-altitude wind pattern that normally keeps Arctic air bottled up in northern Canada and around the North Pole. In January, a big chunk broke off and allowed that ultra-chilly air to meander south. That's likely to happen again next week, Collins said.
The national forecast for March through May predicts no drought relief in the West and cooler than normal temperatures in the upper Midwest. Warmer temperatures in the Southwest in March are expected to spread across the entire South in April and May.
NOAA climate briefing: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/briefings/201402.pdf
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears
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