January didn't break cold records

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We've been frozen by the polar vortex, endured a string of school cancellations and been up to our earmuffs in subzero temperatures. So was this January one of the coldest on record?

Not even close.

According to the National Weather Service, Pittsburgh finished up the month tied for the 17th coldest on record, with an average temperature of 22.2 degrees.

It was positively toasty compared to some of the coldest months recorded since the weather service started keeping track in the 1870s.

"January of 1977, if you were unfortunate enough to be around for it, was an average of 11.4 degrees," said Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

This century, January in 2003 and 2009 were colder than this year, while 2004 was also 22.2 degrees. The average temperature for all Januarys is 28.4 degrees.

(Click image for larger version)

Where this January did stand out, Mr. Hendricks said, was in some wild temperature fluctuations.

On Jan. 7, the high for the day was 50, and by midnight, the temperature had dropped to minus 7. Four days later, we were back up to 54 degrees.

And despite the lack of any major snowstorms, Pittsburgh is also running well above average for the season on snow totals.

Pittsburgh has gotten 42.3 inches of snow this season, compared to the average snowfall of 22.3 inches. That snow has come in small increments: on only five days has the region gotten 2 inches or more.

The low temperature hit zero or below on five days in January: minus 9 on Jan. 7, minus 5 on Jan. 22, zero on Jan. 24, minus 8 on Jan. 28 and minus 5 on Jan. 29.

The cold also has caused problems for public health. The Central Blood Bank put out a call for donors Friday, noting that more than 600 donors canceled or missed appointments the past two weeks alone. For the month of January, the blood supplier's inventories are down by more than 1,000 units.

Hospitals are also battling the flu, another predictable companion to cold weather.

UPMC on Friday asked people with flu-like symptoms to refrain from visiting hospitalized friends and family in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

The Allegheny County Health Department reports that for the week ending last Saturday, the county had 108 new confirmed cases, bringing the total for the season to 404 confirmed cases.

The county is leading the state by far in flu cases this season, with 881 confirmed or suspected cases. The next closest county, Blair County, has 553 cases this season.

Five people have died from the flu in Allegheny County this season, said Guillermo Cole of the county health department. The most recent death was a 9-year-old boy with an underlying medical condition, he said.

The county is still well below where it was during last year's particularly brutal flu season, when the county was reporting 786 confirmed cases at this point.

"It feels like we're probably over the hump," said Andrew Sahud, medical director of infection prevention and control at Allegheny General Hospital.

Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

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