What do we learn from this? Well for one thing, there’s an East Coast bias in news coverage, at least of the weather. But while it truly has been historically cold on average for much of the Midwest, for most of the rest of the country the average temperatures have been around normal, or even a little above. And the West Coast is experiencing an unusually hot winter (one that has compounded the record drought in California). Average high temperatures have been further above normal in Los Angeles and San Jose than they’ve been below average in Chicago. Anchorage has been positively balmy—by Alaskan standards—with average daily highs that are 11 F (6.1 C) greater than the historical average for January.
So why has this month felt so unusually cold for so many Americans? Probably because it has been—at least compared to recent history. An Associated Press analysis found that from 1900 on, cold extremes happened about once every four years. But when the average temperature in the U.S. dropped below 18 F on Jan. 6, it was the first time the country had been that cold on average in 17 years. And that day was only the 55th coldest day in recorded U.S. history, much warmer than the 12 F average recorded on Christmas Eve 1983.