Southeast U.S. Slowly Thaws; Rains in California End Record Dry Streaks

By Dr. Jeff Masters
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Published: 4:00 PM GMT on January 30, 2014

The unusually sharp kink in the jet stream that has brought extreme weather to nearly the entire U.S. in January is finally beginning to straighten out, and a return to more normal winter conditions will begin today and extend into next week. After a morning low of 14°, Atlanta's temperature is expected to rebound into the upper 30s under sunny skies on Thursday afternoon, helping to melt out the hundreds of miles of ice-covered roads left by Winter Storm Leon on Tuesday. A state of emergency remains in effect for all of Georgia until at least noon Thursday due to icy roads. Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama, and many other cities in the Southeast U.S. suffered their worst traffic days in history on Tuesday, after sleet and snows of 1 - 3" compacted into ice on area roads, resulting in travel chaos. Temperatures will fall into the teens again on Thursday night, allowing those roads that do thaw out to re-freeze. The Southeast will not fully thaw out until Friday afternoon, under sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s. At least a dozen deaths have been blamed on the storm, including five traffic fatalities in Alabama.


Figure 1. Abandoned cars litter the roadway Cobb Parkway (US 41) between Cumberland Pkwy and W. Paces Ferry Road. Image credit: Michael King @mhking


Figure 2. Freezing rain from Winter Storm Leon turned roads in Mobile, Alabama into skating rinks. Mobile Airport received 0.1" of ice and 0.8" of sleet. Image credit: David Ladner @davidladner

Top snowfall amounts from Leon, by state
VIRGINIA: 10.0” at 5 locations in the Norfolk-Virginia News area; Park Manor, Suffolk, Stone Bridge, Deep Creek, and Willoughby Spit (8.5” officially at Norfolk NWS site)
NORTH CAROLINA: 9.0” Gliden
NEW JERSEY: 7.7” Estell Manor (7.3" in Atlantic City)
MARYLAND: 6.7” Ridge
MASSACHUSETTS: 5.5" East Sandwich, West Tisbury
DELAWARE: 5.4” Dover, Harrington, Ellendale
NEW YORK: 4.9" Theresa
MISSISSIPPI: 3.0” at 5 sites, including Cato
SOUTH CAROLINA: 4.0” Bennetstsville
GEORGIA: 4.0” White
LOUISIANA: 4.0” Jena
ALABAMA: 3.0” numerous locations
WEST VIRGINIA: 3.0" Gary
TENNESSEE: 2.0" Maryville
PENNSYLVANIA: 1.0” 5 NE Philadelphia
FLORIDA: no official snow reports, but 0.5" of sleet at Freeport

Rain in California!
"Ahhh, rain!" Those are words that undoubtedly arose from the lips of a great number of upturned faces in California on Wednesday, as heaven-sent drops of water splashed down from above. The first significant rain storm of 2014 moved through the northern half of the state on Wednesday, bringing some welcome relief from the record dry conditions that have parched the state this winter. In the Sierra Mountains, snows of up to 12 inches fell, and up to 2 feet of snow may accumulate above 8,000 feet, adding a modest boost to a snowpack that was the lowest on record in many locations. As of 7 am PST on January 30, the Sierra Snow Survey found a snow pack that was only 7% of normal for this time of year. Sacramento recorded 0.03" of rain on Wednesday, ending a string of 52 consecutive days without rain. It was their longest streak of dry days during the rainy season ever recorded, smashing the previous record of 46 days set in 1884. According to wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt, Wednesday's rains in downtown San Francisco and Oakland ended their longest winter rain-free periods on record, since at least 1850 (though San Francisco did get 0.03" of drizzle earlier this month.) The last actual rainfall in the city was on December 6th. That’s 53 days during what normally should be the wettest period of the year, when at least 8” would normally fall. Yesterday's rains also brought an exceptional dry streak to an end in Reno, Nevada--the 0.10" of rain that fell was its first precipitation since December 19.


Figure 3. The observed precipitation plot for the 30-day period ending at 7 am EST January 29, 2014, shows that about 2/3 of California had received no rain at all in 2014. All of Arizona, most of Nevada, and much of Utah and New Mexico were also precipitation-free. January is the heart of the rainy season for the Southwest U.S., and is typically one of the wettest months of the year. Arizona is expected to get rain on January 31, keeping it from going the entire month without rain. Only one time since record keeping began in 1895 has any state had a rain-free January: 1986 in Kansas. Arizona's lowest January rainfall came in 1972, when the state averaged just 0.01" of precipitation. Image credit: NOAA.


Figure 4. The January 29 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 94% of California in drought, with 9% of the state in the highest level of drought, "Exceptional." Image credit: U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought situation in California still dire despite today's rains
While yesterday's and today's rains and snow in California are a welcome respite, they will put only a minor dent in what is one of the worst droughts in California history. Today's U.S. Drought Monitor update put 9% of the state into "Exceptional Drought"--the worst category. This is the first time since the Drought Monitor product began in 2000 that a portion of California was put into "Exceptional Drought". California's area experiencing extreme to exceptional drought remained at 63%, making it one of the three worst winter droughts in state history. To break the drought, much of the state needs more than 12" of precipitation. Sacramento has received about 2" of rain since July 1, 2013, which is 8" below normal, and most of the southern half of the state needs more than a year of rainfall to fall in one month to break the drought. The stubborn ridge of high pressure responsible for the drought is forecast to build back over California during the first ten days of February, and the state will receive little or no rain during that period. However, the ridge will not be as intense, increasing the odds that a low pressure system will be able to break the ridge by mid-February and bring more rain to the state.

Jeff Masters

Frosty Palms (MHK)
Along the West Columbia Riverwalk
Frosty Palms, by MHK
But this is Florida?!! (sassyvintage)
But this is Florida?!!, by sassyvintage
South Carolina Winter Birds (n2rnn)
The birds were busy at the feeders today!
South Carolina Winter Birds, by n2rnn
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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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Southeast U.S. Slowly Thaws; Rains in California End Record Dry Streaks

The unusually sharp kink in the jet stream that has brought extreme weather to nearly the entire U.S. in January is finally beginning to straighten out, and a return to more normal winter conditions will begin today and extend into next week. After a morning low of 14°, Atlanta's temperature is expected to rebound into the upper 30s under sunny skies on Thursday afternoon, helping to melt out the hundreds of miles of ice-covered roads left by Winter Storm Leon on T...

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