Weather Extremes

How Cold has this January been in the U.S.?

By: weatherhistorian, 8:27 PM GMT on January 30, 2014

How Cold has this January been in the U.S.?

The temperature fell to -9°F at Ocean City, Maryland and -5°F at Salisbury this morning (January 30th). For this part of Maryland these were the coldest temperatures observed since at least 1987. Two powerful cold waves have swept across the eastern half of the country, the strongest since 1996 or 1994. The coldest January on record were those of 1977 and 1979. How does this January rank so far?



The January average annual temperature for the entire contiguous U.S. from 1895-2013. January 1979 was the coldest January nation-wide and 1977 the 2nd coldest. IF January 2014 manages to average 1°F below average, then it will be the coldest since 1991.

Actually, this January’s average temperature nationally has probably been close to normal since the western half of the nation has been almost as much above average as the eastern half was below average. The only region that will most likely have experienced a TOP 10 coldest January will be the Upper Midwest. Detroit is on track for its 6th coldest January on record, followed by Chicago (9th), Indianapolis (9th), Fort Wayne, Indiana (9th), and, at the top of the list, South Bend, Indiana where this may have been the 5th coldest.

Compared to 1977, which was the coldest January for the Ohio Valley and places like Chicago and Detroit, this January can hardly compare:



Comparison (average monthly temperature departures) between January 1977 and January 2014 (through Jan. 28). As one can see, there has been no part of the U.S. that has been colder this month than in 1977. NCEP/NCAR.

Also, there have been few significant cold records broken this past month, such as all-time record minimums or all-time monthly minimums. This, of course, can’t be said about the warmth in the West, where numerous all-time monthly maximums have been set in California, Oregon, and Alaska.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Cold

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Record Warmth in Alaska Contrasts Cold Wave in Eastern U.S.

By: weatherhistorian, 8:36 PM GMT on January 27, 2014

Record Warmth in Alaska Contrasts Cold Wave in Eastern U.S.

UPDATE 1/28: The all-time warmest January temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27 when the temperature peaked at 62°F (16.7°C) at Port Alsworth. This ties a similar reading measured at Petersburg on January 16, 1981.

As the eastern half of the U.S. goes into the deep freeze (as outlined in Jeff Masters' blog today, the flip side is the record warmth that California and Alaska have been experiencing (for two straight weeks now). All-time monthly records for warmth have been set at numerous locations in both states, something that cannot yet be said to have occurred during the cold waves this month in the eastern U.S.



The 850 mb height temperature anomaly for North America for the period of January 14-24 illustrates the amazing contrast between the cold in the East and the warmth in the West. NOAA.

Alaska

UPDATE 1/28: The all-time warmest temperature ever observed in Alaska was tied on January 27 when the temperature peaked at 62°F (16.7°C) at Port Alsworth. This ties a similar reading measured at Petersburg on January 16, 1981.

The last half of January has been one of the warmest winter periods in the state’s history with temperatures averaging as much as 40°F above normal on some days in locations in the central and western portions of the state. All time January monthly heat records have so far been established at Nome: 51°F (10.6°C) on January 27 (former record 46°F/7.8°C on January 7, 1942, POR since 1906), Denali Park HQ: 52°F (11.1°C) on January 27 (former record 51°F/10.6°C on January 21, 1961, POR since 1922), Palmer: 58°F (14.4°C) on January 26 (former record 52°F/11.1°C on January 20, 1961, POR since 1949), Homer: 57°F (13.9°C) on January 27 (former record 51°F/10.6°C on January 23, 1961, POR since 1932), Alyseka: 57°F (13.9°C) on January 26 (former record 50°F/10.0°C on January 4, 1995, POR since 1963) Seward: 58°F (14.4°C) on January 27 (former record 55°F/12.8°C on January 7, 2005, POR since 1949), Talkeetna: 47°F (8.3°C) on January 25 (former record 46°F/7.8°C on January 21, 2004, POR since 1949),Kotzebue 40°F (4.4°C) on January 27 (former record 39°F/3.9°C on January 20, 1961).

A pool of shallow cool air has prevented monthly temperature records from having been set at some interior locations such as Fairbanks where the high of 45°F (7.2°C) on January 24th was well short of the monthly record of 52°F (11.1°C) set on January 16, 2009.



In fact, on Sunday (January 26) the temperature at around the 10,600’ level (about the 700 mb level) rose to freezing above Fairbanks, the warmest ever measured for any month from November to March (inclusive). The same also occurred at Ketchikan where at the 850 mb level (around 5,000’) the temperature soared to 53.6°F (12°C), a January record for any location anywhere in the state.

However, in spite of the shallow cool air at the surface, some interior locations have reached record territory. Most incredible is an unofficial report from an automated platform at Boli Lake, south of Delta Junction, which reported 60°F (15.6°C) on January 26. If accurate, this would be just 2°F shy of Alaska’s all-time state monthly record of 62°F (16.7°C) set at Petersburg on January 16, 1981. Of course, Petersburg is on the southeast Alaskan Peninsula where mild Pacific air sometimes intrudes during the winters. Boli Lake is in the heart the Alaskan interior, normally one of the coldest regions in the state during January.

Extreme January Warmth Elsewhere

The extreme warmth experienced so far this month in Alaska has also been noted in Canada’s Yukon Territory where Carmacks has averaged 22.5°C (40.5°F) above average for the past 10 days (-12.1°C low 2.2°C high versus a normal of -33.6°C low and -23.8°C high). In Iceland, Reykjavik is so far experiencing it’s 8th warmest January on record with a POR beginning in 1871. Greenland has also been exceptionally warm with the normally frigid Summit Station (at 10,500’) yet to record a -50°C (-45.5°F) reading this month (which is around what the entire monthly daily minimum average should be).



The warmth over Alaska, the Arctic, Greenland, and Iceland, while so cold in the eastern U.S., can be illustrated by this 500 mb anomaly map of the northern hemisphere forecast for February 1st and produced on January 27th. Note how the polar vortex has been split into two lobes. I am not sure how unusual or not this is. Map courtesy of Guy Walton.

Meanwhile, of course, California has seen an unprecedented 14 consecutive days of record-breaking high temperatures including several all-time monthly records such as the 79°F (26.1°C) at downtown Sacramento on January 24th which smashed by 5°F the previous warmest January temperature of 74°F (23.3°C) set on January 12, 2009. Records at downtown Sacramento go back to 1877.

I will post a more comprehensive summary of the ‘Great California January Heat Wave’ (the most anomalous temperature event in the U.S. since the March heat wave of 2012) when the warmth has run its course.

KUDOS: Thanks to Rick Thoman at NWS-Fairbanks for much of the Alaskan temperature information and Maximiliano Herrera for the notes on Canada, Greenland, and Iceland.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Heat

Updated: 10:49 PM GMT on January 29, 2014

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Nantucket Blizzards

By: weatherhistorian, 8:25 PM GMT on January 23, 2014

Nantucket Blizzards

The winter storm dubbed Janus by The Weather Channel pummeled the east Tuesday and Wednesday this week and prompted blizzard warnings for Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts. However, the National Weather Service office in Boston confirmed that, in the end, conditions actually fell just short of blizzard criteria at any location in Massachusetts. Nantucket, however, came very close Wednesday morning.



The blizzard whipped the 6-10” of powdery snow into 4’ drifts in the town of Nantucket on Wednesday morning. Photo by Nicole Harnishfeger courtesy of the Nantucket newspaper The Inquirer and Mirror.

According to the NWS for a true blizzard to occur a site must meet the following criteria: at least three consecutive hours of visibility of ¼ mile or less, sustained winds or gusts at or greater than 35 mph, and snowfall or blowing snow observed.

Looking at the METARS for Nantucket on Wednesday morning (January 22nd) we see that from the 7:43 a.m. through the 9:58 a.m. the above mentioned blizzard criteria were met (note that the ‘light freezing fog’ was, in fact, snowfall—a METAR artifact common during blizzard-like conditions).



Weather observations at Nantucket the morning of January 22nd. Blizzard conditions occurred for at least 2 hours 15 minutes from 7:45 to 10:00 a.m., short by (at the most) 45 minutes to be considered an ‘official’ blizzard.

Officially, a storm total of 6.0” fell with a peak wind gust of 60 mph. However, the high winds made it very difficult to measure the actual snow depth. The local newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror reported that the actual snowfall ranged between 8”-10” across the island and the highest wind gust reported was 69 mph measured by a home weather station on Washing Pond Rd. Drifts up to 4’ deep were common.

How rare are blizzards in Nantucket?

Blizzards are rare in Nantucket but have occurred, on average, about once every five years or so. The average annual snowfall for Nantucket is only 23”, among the lowest for the state of Massachusetts. Snow seasons have ranged from a low of 3.8” in 1952-1953 to a high of 82.0” in 1903-1904.

The types of storms that bring heavy winter snows to Boston normally result in just rainfall for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Only powerful ‘nor’easters’ whose tracks remain well off the Atlantic coastline can bring heavy snow or blizzard conditions to the islands. This was the case with the storm this week. The heaviest snowfalls in Massachusetts were south of Boston where up to 18” fell in Plymouth County and 12” on Cape Cod. Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard reported 11.1”.

Nantucket’s worst blizzards on record were those of January 25-26, 1905 when 21.4” fell and February 27-29, 1952 when 21.4” also accumulated. The snow depth reached an all-time record of 23” on February 28th, 1952 (another storm on February 18th had deposited 8” of snow) and drifts of 12-14’ deep paralyzed the island.



Winds during the Nantucket blizzard of February 27-29, 1952 reached 80 mph on the island. Another storm just 10 days earlier caused disaster at sea when the tanker ship S.S. Pendleton foundered on February 18th in high seas off Cape Cod. The man visible in the bow (holding the rail) later froze to death along with the loss of the captain and six others. 32 additional crewmen were rescued by a small boat of three Coast Guard members. Photo from U.S. Coast Guard archives. For more on this dramatic event read the U.S. Coast Guard account. One of the most heroic rescue events in the annals of U.S. Coast Guard history.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Snow

Updated: 4:10 AM GMT on January 24, 2014

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Anniversary of the Great Cold Wave of January 21, 1985

By: weatherhistorian, 7:57 PM GMT on January 21, 2014

Anniversary of the Great Cold Wave of January 21, 1985

Another arctic outbreak is heading into the eastern third of the nation today. Temperatures will be frigid (as witnessed by Embarass, Minnesota which bottomed out at -37° this morning (January 21st). But the current cold wave pales in comparison to what was happening at this time back in 1985. Here is a summary of that historic event.



Surface conditions for the eastern U.S. at 7 a.m. January 21, 1985. The coldest morning in the Southeast since February 1899. NWS/NOAA Daily Weather Map.

In what was the most intense cold wave to invade the Southeast of the U.S. since the great arctic outbreak of February 1899 temperatures on January 21, 1985 fell below zero as far south as southern Alabama and Georgia. All-time cold records were set at many significant sites from Chicago to Charleston, South Carolina. Here is a selection of some of the sites, with long historical periods of record, where all-time cold records were set:



List of significant sites with long POR’s that broke their official all-time cold records during the January 20-22, 1985 cold wave. The cities with the dashed lines under the temperatures are places that recorded even colder temperatures during what was likely THE worst cold wave ever experienced in the Southeast: that of February 8, 1835. The temperature on that date fell to -10° at Athens, GA, -4° at Augusta, GA, 0° at Savannah, GA, and 1° at Charleston, SC. Data from Weather Underground Record Extremes archive.

In addition to the cities above several state records for cold were also broken:

-34° NORTH CAROLINA, Mt. Mitchell on January 21

-30° VIRGINIA, Mt. Lake Biology Station on January 21, 1985

-19° SOUTH CAROLINA, Caesars Head on January 21

Actually, a temperature of -22° was observed at Hogback Mountain, South Carolina as well. It is not clear to me why this figure has apparently not been accepted as the ‘official’ state record (I inquired about this to the South Carolina State Climatology Office but never received a response).



In a way somewhat similar to the cold wave earlier this month, the January 20-22, 1985 event passed quickly across the region so that record low maximum temperatures were a matter of just where you were when the core of the cold air passed. We can see this clearly in the map below of max and min temps published at 7 a.m. ET on January 21, 1985. The maximum temperatures indicated were for the 12-hour period ending at 7 p.m. on January 20th and the minimum temperatures are for the 12-hour period ending at 7 a.m. on January 21st. Note the amazing ‘high’ temperature of -7° at Nashville on the 20th. However, the official daily max for that day in Nashville was actually 7° which occurred just after midnight on the 20th (the record low max for Nashville is 2° on January 12, 1918).



One can only imagine the frenzy that would engulf popular media should a cold wave of this magnitude occur again! ‘The Uber-Polar Vortex Attack!!’

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Cold Temperature

Updated: 8:02 AM GMT on January 23, 2014

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December 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary

By: weatherhistorian, 8:00 PM GMT on January 18, 2014

December 2013 Global Weather Extremes Summary

December 2013 saw a variety of temperature extremes both cold and warm and in some cases at the same locations. The most notable was the heat wave in Argentina. However, in general, extreme variability was the theme thanks to extreme amplitudes of the jet stream. Severe flooding affected portions of Brazil, Kenya, and the Middle East where a cold snap and rare heavy snow also occurred in some locations.

Below are some of the month’s highlights.

NORTH AMERICA

It was a relatively ‘normal’ December in the contiguous U.S. with the most significant events being ice and snowstorms affecting the central and northeastern portions of the country and drought conditions worsening in California.





Temperature (top) and precipitation (bottom) rankings by state for December 2013. Most notable was California’s 2nd driest December on record and the mild and wet Southeast. Maps from NCDC/NOAA.

In the southeast, some all-time monthly heat records were set including 83°F (28.3°C) at Augusta, Georgia on December 21st and 81°F (27.2°C) at Norfolk, Virginia on December 22nd (Savannah, Georgia 83°F/28.3°C) and Jacksonville, Florida 84°F/28.9°C tied their monthly records). Meanwhile, a cold snap enveloped the far West December 5-8 with an official all-time record low of -30°F (-34.4°C) set at Burns, Oregon on December 9th (USWB figures also cite a -32°F/-35.6°C temperature reading at Burns on February 10, 1933). Lakeview reportedly also set its all time low with a -27°F (-32.8°C) on December 8th, but the current (since 2009) weather site location is in a colder location so far as cold air pooling: this would be the 2nd time in 2013 that Lakeview broke its all-time cold record since observations began at other sites going back to 1884, in other words one cannot compare the recent record cold temperatures now being observed at the new site to those prior to 2009.

A tremendous plume of sub-tropical moisture invaded the Midwest and East December 20-22. An amazing 10.24” (260 mm) of rain in 24 hours was reported at a site near Williams, Indiana, just short of the Indiana state record for such (for any month) of 10.50” (267 mm) at Princeton on August 6, 1905. For more about this historic storm see my blog posted on December 23rd.



The massive storm of December 20-23 caused significant ice accumulations from Texas to Canada. Worst hit was the Toronto, Canada where ice accumulated up to 30 mm (1.2”) thick. Photo by Greg Stacey.

Alaska saw some wild swings of temperature that included an all-time ‘heat’ record for any Arctic Ocean-based site in the state for December when the temperature reached 39°F (3.9°C) at Deadhorse (Prudhoe Bay) on December 7th. Interestingly a similar event occurred in Sweden’s Lapland on December 11th (see Europe entry below).

The coldest temperature observed in the northern hemisphere and the world during this past December was a reading of -56.4°C (-69.5°F) at Summit, Greenland on December 3rd.

SOUTH AMERICA and CENTRAL AMERICA

December 2013 was one of Argentina’s hottest months on record. Buenos Aires tied its all-time hottest month (any month) on record (since 1856) with a sweltering 26.6°C (79.9°F) average. The prolonged heat wave caused power outages and water shortages resulting in many large street demonstrations in the city. In the northwest of the country temperatures peaked at 45.5°C (113.9°F) at Chamical on December 26th.

Torrential rainfalls caused flooding in Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo States of Brazil resulting in flooding that took at least 44 lives. All-time monthly precipitation records were set at several sites including 921 mm (36.26”) at Capelinha, 851.6 mm (33.53”) at Aimores, 837.4 mm (32.97”) at Santa Teesa, and 714 mm (28.11”) at Vitoria (Esperito Santo).

EUROPE

Western Europe was slammed with what seemed like a never-ending series of powerful extra-tropical cyclones. The worst of these hit the U.K. around Christmastime and resulted in near-record low barometric pressure readings for the U.K. Stronoway, Scotland saw the pressure drop to 936.8 mb (27.66”) on December 24th. Fortunately, the tightest pressure gradients (and thus strongest winds) were to the north of Scotland and thus over sea, so given the powerful nature of the storm surprisingly little damage occurred in the U.K. or Ireland. It was the warmest December since 1988 for the U.K. as whole and precipitation was much above average (154% of such) as a result of the many cyclones. Scotland had its wettest December on record (since 1910).



Scotland experienced its wettest December on record as this map of precipitation anomalies for the U.K. illustrates. Map copyright of the Crown, U.K. Met Office.

The warmest temperature measured in the country during the month was 16.6°C (61.9°F) at Cassley, Sutherland on December 10th and the coldest -6.1°C (21.0°F) at Dalwhinnie, Highland on December 7th. The greatest 24-hour precipitation was 73.6 mm (2.90”) at Cassley on December 23-24. The highest wind low-elevation gust occurred during the great Christmas storm with a 109 mph gust at Aberdaron, Gwynedd on the 26th.



Emergency crews rescue residents in north Wales where coastal flooding occurred during the storm around Christmastime. Four deaths were blamed on the cyclone. Photo from BBC.

In northern Europe wild swings of temperature occurred, especially in Sweden. In Sweden’s Lapland temperature reached as high as 10.2°C (50.4°F) on December 11th coming close the region’s all-time December record of 11.0°C/51.8°F (set at Nikkaluokta on December 18, 2007). What was amazing was just two days earlier (on December 9th) the temperature had been as cold as -40.8C (-41.4°F), the coldest temperature observed so early in the season for Sweden since 1969. For more details about this topsy-turvy event see my previous blog on the subject.

Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia endured their warmest Christmas Day on record when temperatures rose to 2.8°C (37°F) at Moscow and 5°C (41°F) at St. Petersburg. The same was true for portions of Germany and Austria where a high of 19.1°C (66.4°F) was observed at Salisburg, Austria, a new December record for the city.

AFRICA

Severe flooding affected southern Kenya on December 11-13. At least 14 deaths were reported and dozens of homes destroyed. Kajlado County was worst affected.

The hottest temperature observed in the northern hemisphere during the past month was 41.0°C (105.8°F) at Linguere, Senegal on December 2nd and also at Matam on December 4th.

A cold wave and storm brought accumulations of small hail to the suburbs of Cairo on December 8-12. Snow fell in the higher elevations of the Sinai Peninsula.



Small hail accumulated to a depth of an inch or two in the eastern Cairo suburb of Madinaty. Photographer not identified.

ASIA

In mid-December a pool of very cold air and a low pressure in the eastern Mediterranean brought exceptionally heavy snow to the higher elevations of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Amman, Jordan reported up to 20 cm (8”) of snow and neighborhoods in Jerusalem saw up to 50 cm (20”). At lower elevations torrential rains of up to 150 mm (6”) caused flooding. Especially hard hit was the Gaza Strip where 40,000 people were displaced and damage was estimated at US$64 million.



Residents of Amman, Jordan enjoy the rare heavy snowfall that deposited 20 cm (8”)on the city on December 13th. Photo from REUTERS.

Temperature anomalies for warmth were near record territory for almost the entire month in Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan.

Yet another (the season’s 4th) tropical cyclone developed in the Bay of Bengal and struck India in early December. Cyclone Madi strengthened to a CAT 1 storm before weakening prior to landfall in southern India. Little damage and few casualties were reported.

Torrential rains deluged the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea during the middle of the month. One site, Truong Sa, measured 646 mm (25.43”) in a 72-hour period. It was unusually cool in northern Southeast Asia during the last half of the month and snow was reported in northern Vietnam at elevations above 1600 m (6,300’).

AUSTRALIA

It was yet another warmer than normal month for Australia and also a bit drier than average. In fact, Queensland experienced its 3rd driest December on record with a statewide average of just 26.2 mm (1.03”)—the driest was that of 1938 when the average was 19.6 mm (0.77”).





Temperature (top) and precipitation deciles maps for Australia during the month of December. Maps courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The hottest temperature measured in the southern hemisphere and the world during December was 47.4°C (117.3°F) set at Eucla, Western Australia on December 5th. The coldest temperature observed in Australia during December was -4.6°C (23.7°F) at Thredbo, New South Wales on December 6th. The greatest observed calendar day rainfall was 167.6 mm (6.60”) at Wyndham, Western Australia on December 23rd.

Tropical Cyclone Christine made landfall along Australia’s Pilbara coast of Western Australia on December 29th as a CAT 3 storm with 124 mph winds. Trees were uprooted and some homes damaged.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) announced on January 3rd that 2013 was the warmest year on record for Australia.

NEW ZEALAND

It was a fairly average month weather-wise for New Zealand. The warmest temperature measured was 34.2°C (93.6°F) at Clyde, South Island on December 5th and the coolest -1.2°C (29.8°F) at Middlemarch, South Island on December 1st. The highest observed calendar day rainfall was 175 mm (6.89”) at North Egmont, North Island on December 4th.

NIWA announced recently that 2013 was the country’s 3rd warmest year on record.

ANTARCTICA

The coldest temperature in the southern hemisphere during December was –42.1C (-43.8°F) recorded at Concordia on December 1st.

KUDOS Thanks to Maximiliano Herrera for global temperature extremes data and Jeremy Budd and NIWA for New Zealand data.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather

Updated: 3:51 AM GMT on January 19, 2014

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Central California Enters a Drought Period Unprecedented in its Weather History

By: weatherhistorian, 10:53 PM GMT on January 15, 2014

Central California Enters a Drought Period Unprecedented in its Weather History

There are few sites in the U.S. (or, for that matter, the world) that have as long an unbroken period of record for precipitation measurements as the city of San Francisco. This official record extends back to November 1849. Today, January 15th, the city has now entered unchartered territory by surpassing 1916-1917 as the driest ‘wet season’ to date on record.



Map of soil moisture conditions across the U.S. as of January 13th. NOAA/NCDC.

Driest Water Years (July 1-June 30) in San Francisco history

As of January 15th, San Francisco has received a seasonal precipitation total of just 2.12”. Here is a list of the top ten driest water years (since 1849-1850) for the city:



Season to date precipitation for selected California cities

Below is a list of seasonal precipitation to date for selected California cities (arranged from north to south) with comparison to normal:



Sierra snow pack issues

The snow pack in the Sierra is currently averaging 15% of normal for this time of the year, the lowest on record. The graphics below illustrate the dire situation:



Satellite images comparing California from a year ago to today. Not only is the snow cover drastically less but also notice how brown the central valley ground cover is relative to the green of January 2013. Images from NOAA.



The graphs above show the water content of the snow pack for the northern Sierra (top), central Sierra (center) and southern Sierra (bottom). As can be seen, the snow pack water content is at its lowest on record for all three districts. Graphs from California Department of Water Resources.

What’s next?

The worst drought on record for California was that of 1975-1977. After two consecutive dry seasons, and with this season on track to become the driest on record, drought conditions could even end up worse than those of 1975-1977.

Some are surprised that an official ‘drought emergency’ has yet to be declared by Governor Brown (although he has indicated that such is likely by February 1st). One of the reasons for this is that “legally, drought means much more than no rain. It means the governor, by making the declaration of a drought emergency, may lift environmental protections that help our [SF] bay-estuary to allow water transfers to other parts of the state. A declaration doesn't create water or money. It may allow the governor to redirect certain funds, typically unspent water bond funds. Those dollars are scarce, however, with the last water bond in 2009…The question before the governor is this: Does it make economic sense to drop environmental protections to move around more water? The governor's Drought Task Force is meeting weekly but so far has made no recommendation.” (This was a quote from an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper on January 13th).



A map of the current status of the water levels in the major state reservoirs. As can be seen the situation is worse in the northern two-thirds of the state than in the southern section. California Department of Water Resources.

A major drought in California would have nation-wide implications. California is the number one state in cash farm receipts with 11.3 percent of the U.S. total. The state accounts for 15 percent of national receipts for crops and 7.1 percent of the U.S. revenue for livestock and livestock products. California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. The state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, U.S. consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California. The state is also the nation's largest agricultural exporter. –REF: California Department of Food and Agriculture

Needless to say, all agricultural crops and livestock are dependent on a reliable and continuous water supply.

Since the rainy season in this part of the country can be extremely variable, many are assuming that the drought is bound to break soon. The area is only at the halfway point in the water season, so not to worry too much yet. However, the forecast models are so dire (for lack of any precipitation until at least February) that one might think they must be erroneous. We shall see what verifies in the weeks ahead.

P.S.-Just In: San Francisco Airport observed its warmest January day on record today, January 15th, with a 73° reading. This beats the previous monthly record of 72° set twice before (on January 13, 2009 and January 24, 1948). Records at the airport location began in 1938. Oakland Airport reached 77° and Monterey hit a stunning 83°, which would be a record for even many summer days.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian


Extreme Weather Drought Precipitation Records

Updated: 2:09 AM GMT on January 16, 2014

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What a Difference a Week Makes!

By: weatherhistorian, 8:27 PM GMT on January 13, 2014

What a Difference a Week Makes!

A week ago, half of the eastern U.S. was in the grip of the most intense cold wave since 1996. The cold snap, however, was short lived and since then unusually mild weather has spread across virtually the entire contiguous U.S. It was 85°F (29.4°C) in Frederick, Oklahoma on Sunday January 12th. A daily record of 75°F (23.9°C) was observed in Oklahoma City. Temperatures in the Northeast shot up phenomenally fast following the 48-hour cold spell.

Wichita, Kansas saw its temperature rise from -5°F (-20.6°C) on January 6 to a record 70°F (21.1°C) on January 12th (the daily average temperature was 27°F below normal on January 6th and 20°F above normal on January 12th).



Climate data for Wichita, Kansas so far this January. NWS-Wichita.

The 85°F reading at Frederick was short of Oklahoma’s warmest January day on record (which was 92°F/33.3°C at Cloud Chief in January 1911) but astonishing given how cold the previous week was: 12°F (-11.1°C) on January 6th with a high of just 28°F (-2.2°C). Wichita Falls, Texas tied its daily high with 80°F (26.7°C) on January 12th following an 11°F (-11.7°C) reading on January 6th.

The rapid rise in temperature was pretty much a nation-wide event. Even in places that had been at the core of the bitter cold wave saw moderating temperatures. Chicago, which experienced one of its coldest days on record January 6 (official high was -2°F/-18.9°C, but that occurred at midnight, the actual midday high was only -11°F/-23.9°C) was up to 40°F (4.4°C) by January 10th, its first above freezing day since December 29th. The daily highs have been in the 40°’s since. In Maine, where the coldest temperatures were observed during the first three days of January, not during the so-called ‘polar vortex’ event, the temperature rose from a near state record low of -49°F (-45.0°C) at Van Buren on January 3rd to 45°F (7.2°C) at nearby Caribou on January 6th only to fall below zero when the cold front associated with the next cold wave passed and then back into the 40°s again currently.



The topsy-turvy month of January 2014 at Caribou, Maine. Van Buren, about 20 miles north of Caribou, fell to -49°F on January 3rd according to NCDC climate data. NWS-Caribou.

On Sunday January 12th, the lowest temperature observed anywhere in the contiguous U.S. was just -1°F (-18.3°) at Alamosa, Colorado and virtually every major weather site in the country (aside from Alaska) saw above freezing temperatures.

Meanwhile, a very significant mid-winter heat wave is developing over California this week. I’ll have an update on this and the drought situation on Wednesday.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather

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2013: Australia’s Warmest Year on Record

By: weatherhistorian, 8:46 PM GMT on January 06, 2014

2013: Australia’s Warmest Year on Record

As the most intense cold wave to envelop a large portion of the U.S. since 1996 unfolds, record warmth has been the story for much of the rest of the world, including California, but especially in Australia where 2013 has been determined to be the continent’s warmest calendar year on record. This year has begun with yet more records. Here are some details.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued a special statement on January 3rd confirming that 2013 was the nation’s warmest year on record (since 1910) so far as annual average temperature. The average was 21.8°C (71.2°F) which surpassed the previous warmest year of 21.63°C (70.9°F) set in 2005. 2013 was 1.2°C (2.2°F) above the long-term normal.



Every state averaged above normal in 2013 with at least portions of every state observing their warmest year on record with the exception of Tasmania. Map courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.



The daily national temperature anomalies for Australia as a whole in 2013. September was the most anomalous month every recorded on the continent (see list of superlatives below). Table from Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Last January (2013) started the ball rolling with an extreme heat wave, one of the worst in Australian history. The peak of the heat wave occurred January 2-8, which was Australia’s hottest week on record with January 7th being the single hottest day (nation-wide) ever observed. The entire month of January also became the single warmest month in Australian records. The point maximum temperature was 49.6°C (121.3°F) at Moomba, South Australia on January 12th, the warmest reading measured anywhere in the country since 1998 and the 6th hottest officially observed at any site in Australian for any month. Interestingly, this month (January 2014) is starting off with similar extremes. Just last week on January 2nd, Moomba hit 49.3°C (120.7°F). Even more remarkable was the 49.1°C (120.4F) observed at Walgett in New South Wales on January 3rd (2014). This was the 2nd hottest temperature ever measured in the state falling short of the all-time record of 49.7°C (121.5°F) set at Menindee Post Office on January 10, 1939.

Here is a brief list of some of the 2013 temperature anomaly highlights:


Above list prepared by Australian Bureau of Meteorology.


One of the reasons for the unusual warmth in 2013 was very high sea surface temperatures (SST), the third warmest on record according to preliminary data. See map below:



More alarming is the long-term trend of the SST’s over Australia’s period of record since 1910 that have roughly followed the temperature trend as well:





All above maps and graphics by Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The unusual heat contributed to a number of destructive wild fires (or bush fires as they are called in Australia). One of the worst, in terms of damage, was that which scorched southeastern Tasmania during the early January heat wave of 2013. A total of 25,500 hectares (62,000 acres) burned with 193 homes destroyed along with an additional 186 other buildings. Even larger and more destructive wild fires occurred during the early spring heat waves of September and October when 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) were scorched and 193 homes lost in the Blue Mountain area west of Sydney.

It will be interesting to see how Australia fares in 2014, having once more started off with some anomalous heat.

KUDOS: Australian Bureau of Meteorology for all of the above graphics and Blair Trewin for bringing this to my attention.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Heat

Updated: 5:19 AM GMT on January 07, 2014

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Driest Year on Record for California, Oregon, Wettest in Asheville, Macon

By: weatherhistorian, 10:05 PM GMT on January 03, 2014

Driest Year on Record for California, Oregon, Wettest in Asheville, Macon

As expected for the past month or so, most of California and much of Oregon have closed out 2013 as the driest calendar year on record. Conversely, a few locations in the Southeast have experienced their wettest year. Here is a brief summary with the details (probably more than you want to know).

California

The statistics speak for themselves. Not only has it been the driest calendar year on record for the state as a whole, but also some locations have surpassed their previous dry records by astonishing margins. Here are some of the record reports issued by various NWS sites from around the state:



Above list issued by NWS-Monterey which serves the San Francisco Bay Area.



Above list issued by NWS-San Joaquin which serves the southern half of the interior valley of California. One of the nation’s premier vegetable and fruit growing regions.



Above list issued by NWS-Los Angeles which serves the greater Los Angles region.

In addition to the above Sacramento (with 6.12”), Eureka (with 16.53”) and Redding (with 12.82”) also experienced their driest calendar years on record but I don’t have the former driest year statistics yet.

The latest Sierra snow measurements taken on January 3rd indicate that the Sierra snowpack water content is currently just 12% of normal for this time of the year, the 3rd lowest level since such measurements began in 1920. The only drier years at this point of the ‘wet’ season were 1977 and 1960.

Oregon

Much of the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon experienced their driest year on record as well:



Statement issued by NWS-Portland.

Medford and Roseburg, in the southern portion of Oregon, also experienced their driest year with 8.99” in Medford (old record 10.42” in 1959) and 16.08” in Roseburg (old record 21.71” in 1976).



This map illustrates the area of precipitation deficits in the western U.S. for 2013.



The latest drought monitor map for the U.S. issued on December 31st.

Record Wet Year in portions of the Southeast and Upper Midwest

Asheville, North Carolina clobbered its previous wet year record with 75.22” of precipitation in 2013, the former record being 64.91” in 1973. Precipitation records in Asheville go back to 1869, so this was quite an achievement. Macon, Georgia also had its wettest year on record with a 72.67” total (former record 67.80” in 1929 with a POR back to 1899).

Portions of the Upper Midwest were also very wet. Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan had a record 48.78” in 2013, surpassing its previous record of 45.84” in 1995 (POR since 1887).

I’ll follow up on other precipitation records for the U.S. in my monthly global extreme weather summary due to post in mid-January.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Precipitation Records

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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.