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What is the January Thaw, and when in the month is it mostly likely to occur?

Dear Tom,
What is the January Thaw, and when in the month is it mostly likely to occur?
— Mel Dormer, Aurora
Dear Mel,
The January Thaw is a weather singularity, an event that takes place around a certain date with a frequency of occurrence greater than chance would dictate. It doesn’t occur every year, but when it does, it usually occurs in mid- or late January, primarily in New England and to a lesser extent in the Midwest.
Chicago weather records show evidence of the January Thaw from Jan. 20-22, when the long-term average temperature breaks the freezing mark. It is much more pronounced in the East, where long-term average temperatures tend to spike 3-6 degrees in an eight-day period centered on Jan. 23. Since 1871, only January 1977 failed to log a day that did not reach 32 degrees; the highest that month was just 30.