California Drought

The warm and dry January 2014 out west has come to an end! We have been writing about the California drought for weeks, and more proof of the worsening situation can be seen looking back on last month.

The National Weather Service forecast office in Sacramento, California posted an interesting bulletin with records and other significant notes from the region in January 2014 and the wet season so far. Some of the records are staggering, including the all-time record high temperature for January of 79°F on January 24, 2014 which shattered the old record of 74°F from January 31, 1976. In addition, Sacramento was dry for 52 consecutive days from December to January, and the old record was only 44 days (the old record also included much of November, which is typically not the height of the wet season like December and January).

Record high temperatures and record dry periods have been observed in other areas of California and the west as well. At this point, a very wet February, March, and April would be the only chance of “catching up” to average precipitation amounts for the season. Looking into the future at long-range weather forecasts, we are not able to invest much confidence in this occurring because the stubborn blocking pattern has been so dominant in steering Pacific storms well north of California. There are not indications that drought improvement is around the corner. However, any Pacific moisture is better than none at all, and we will be grateful for whatever we can get the remainder of the season.

Here is the bulletin from the National Weather Service:

https://nwschat.weather.gov/p.php?pid=201402031431-KSTO-NOUS46-PNSSTO

WOW

I pulled up The Weather Channel app on my iPhone yesterday evening, and started flipping through my saved locations. I like to switch it up, and pick a handful of various locations to save to favorites every couple weeks or so. It’s nice to follow the weather in other parts of the country, and honestly, even following basic observations like temperature and sky cover in other places can absolutely expand your meteorological knowledge bank.

Death Valley is currently on my list. When this came up, I was in awe at the 2% relative humidity, and staggering gap between the temperature and dew point! That’s a 106°F difference… crazy! It’s also interesting that the Heat Index was down to 104° due to the extremely dry air mass. I’d be curious to read up on why that creates such a significant cooling sensation.

Long story short… I feel sorry for anyone having to live in that type excruciating heat, especially compared to the low 70’s we’ve had for over a week. I actually really enjoy little spurts of hot weather, but Death Valley can keep its 115° and enjoy that.

Stephen Bone
Meteorologist

California’s Top 15 Weather Events of the 1900’s

I came across this list on the Western Regional Climate Center’s (WRCC) page (http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/extreme-events/california/) and felt it was worth sharing. The National Weather Service offices in California (not sure exactly which ones) assembled the list based on impacts to people, property, and the economy. I was born in 1988 and alive for 5 of the Top 15 events, but that isn’t necessarily an indication of worsening weather in the state, or higher frequency of disasters. As the decade progressed, awareness and monitoring of extreme weather situations grew in the state of California and around the United States. Meteorological events were better documented and researched (more technology and resources were available) in the late-1900’s than the early and mid-1900’s.

Below is the list. Use the link above to read more about each event on the WRCC page. There are similar lists made for a few other western states as well.

  • 1. 1982-83 El Nino Storms
  • 2. 1975-1977 Drought
  • 3. October 1991 Oakland Tunnel (East Bay Hills) Fire
  • 4. January 1913 Freeze
  • 5. 1997 New Year’s Flood
  • 6. March 1964 Tsunami-Induced Flooding
  • 7. October 1993 Firestorms
  • 8. March 1907 and January 1909 Floods
  • 9. December 1977 Southern San Joaquin Valley Wind/Dust Storm
  • 10. 1969 Winter Storms and Floods
  • 11. December 1990 Freeze
  • 12. December 1955 Winter Storms
  • 13. 1995 Winter Storms
  • 14. November 1961 Bel Air Fire
  • 15. September 1939 Tropical Storm

One observation that immediately comes to mind as I glance at this list is that most of the events revolve directly or indirectly around temperature and/or precipitation extremes. For example, an indirect effect of exceptionally dry conditions would be making vegetation much more susceptible to a catastrophic wildfire. While severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes receive more attention in the mainstream media, flooding and heat/drought are equally powerful, and are just as (if not more) life-threatening. So if you thought California was immune to “bad,” or dangerous weather… think again.

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Hillside homes burning to the ground during the Oakland Firestorm of 1991.

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Homes almost completely submerged in the Sacramento area during the Winter 1995 floods.

Stephen Bone
Meteorologist

Future of Sea Level Rise

Dramatic images of flooding associated with hurricane storm surge have been captured along the Gulf Coast and East Coast. But, what would parts of the West Coast look like after a drastic sea level rise? While a hurricane would be classified as a short-term event, long-term sea level rise is considered inevitable, and already occurring by many oceanic and atmospheric scientists.

The Weather Channel posts many interesting articles and photo galleries, such as the story published earlier today on this exact topic. I love to check their page every day, among others, for the latest stories and news. All credit for the images and information belongs to The Weather Channel and artist Nickolay Lamm. Link for direct access: http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/nickolay-lamm-west-coast-sea-level-rise-pictures-20130711 . While the timing and magnitude of such events are uncertain, it is interesting that some studies suggest significant sea level rise (on the order of a few feet) is very realistic in our lifetime!

Below are a couple of the picture series’ using the San Diego area.

1. Coronado Island:

NOW
SeaLevel_1_1

AFTER 5-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_1_2

AFTER 12-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_1_3

AFTER 25-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_1_4

2. San Diego Convention Center:

NOW
SeaLevel_2_1

AFTER 5-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_2_2

AFTER 12-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_2_3

AFTER 25-FOOT SEA LEVEL RISE
SeaLevel_2_4

Stephen Bone
Meteorologist

NWS San Diego Visit

Yesterday, Ivory Small (Science and Operations Officer) and the rest of the crew at the National Weather Service WFO in San Diego were kind enough to host a few of us for the day. Kayla Jordan (our summer intern), Jim Purpura (former director at the San Diego WFO), and myself discussed the Elsinore Convergence Zone with Ivory, who has documented several cases and is essentially an expert. There is not a tremendous amount of research on the convergence zone. Severe weather is very real in California, and I believe the public’s lack of awareness for it is a serious problem in our state. As a meteorologist, I want to help improve that.

Our goal in visiting the office was to finalize our research topics for an upcoming joint project, and I’d say it was a very successful day. Thanks again for welcoming us in, NWS San Diego. And an extra special thanks to Ivory for taking the time to meet with us!

Some pictures from the trip…

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The view from outside.

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The view from inside. No wonder they never leave this office…

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Work stations, webcams around the area, and The Weather Channel on 24/7!

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Working can be fun too!

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Ivory (Science and Operations Officer) showing us some data on his work station.

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BUSTED!

Stephen Bone
Meteorologist