COLUMBIA — After back-to-back balmy Januaries, Columbia is off to a frigid start to 2014.
The average temperature in Columbia last month was 25.1 degrees, far colder than the 30-year average of 29.7 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
An exceptionally cold start to the month held down average temperatures with the polar vortex, when arctic air extended farther south than usual. The first week of the year had four of the five days during the month when temperatures fell to or below zero.
During this time, the temperature fell to 11 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service. The coldest day of the year so far was Jan. 6, with an average temperature of 5 below.
Residents struggled with problems brought on by the extreme cold, such as frozen pipes. This meant more work for local plumbers.
"The first week of January, pipes were frozen all over town. It was as bad as I’ve seen it, probably," said Brian Wear, a plumber. "Every plumber in town was busy, it seems. I worked until 8 or 10 p.m. some nights."
Although the the plumbing problems caused by the cold were as bad as Wear has ever seen, the temperatures weren't record-setting by any means.
In the grand scheme of things, this January was the 25th-coldest in 124 years, said Karl Sieczynski, a meteorologist with the weather service.
The cold might feel a little more biting to some Columbia residents, though, because the city has been spoiled with relatively warm Januaries the past two years. The average temperature in January both years was above freezing.
However, January 2011 was slightly colder than this year, Sieczynski said.
The cold month came with some surprising warmth, too, and wildly fluctuating temperatures. There were 12 days in January when the highest temperature rose above freezing, which is above average.
And the sudden changes in temperature could mean a smaller pest population come spring and summer, said Wayne Bailey, a professor of entomology at MU.
"The way it's been cold is more important than the fact that it's been cold," Bailey said.
There have been a lot of swings in temperature, and that kills insects, Bailey said. The varying temperatures break down the insects' natural antifreeze and make them more susceptible to the cold.
Snow cover also affects how insects survive the winter months.
"The lack of snow cover has helped, too," Bailey said. "Snow cover insulates the soil, protecting it from varying temperatures. Most insects are right below the soil surface."
Bailey expects that there will be fewer ticks and bean leaf beetles than usual this year.
"This is probably one of the best winters we’ve had in terms of pest control," he said.
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