California's Record Warmth and Drought Won't Stop Outdoor NHL Hockey

Published: 4:41 PM GMT on January 23, 2014

No rain or snow fell anywhere in California over the past week, prompting no change to the drought rankings for the state in today's U.S. Drought Monitor update. California's area experiencing extreme drought remained at 63%, making it one of the three worst winter droughts in state history. To break the drought, most of the state needs more than 12" of precipitation, and most of the southern half of the state needs more than a year of rainfall to fall in one month. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Bay area experienced its 10th consecutive day of record highs, with Oakland, Mountain View, Jan Jose, and Gilroy all hitting record highs of 72° - 75°. According to the National Weather Service, since December 23, record highs have been reported in the Bay Area a remarkable 22 out of 32 days.

Figure 1. One of the key water supply reservoirs for Central California, Lake Oroville, as seen on January 17, 2014. Image credit: California Department of Water Resources.

Figure 2. The amount of precipitation that must fall in one month to break the California drought is equivalent to more than a year's worth in most of the southern half of the state. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Outdoor hockey in record-warm Southern California?
The heat is also on in Southern California, where Burbank, California, located about 10 miles north-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, hit 81° on Wednesday. Not only was that a record high for the date, it also set a new record for consecutive January days with highs of 80° or above--ten. The previous record was eight consecutive days, set in 2009. A rare January fire weather watch is posted for the area, where offshore Santa Ana winds and humidities below 20% will heighten the fire danger Thursday and Friday.

The record warm weather in Southern California will not deter the National Hockey League from playing its first-ever outdoor hockey game in the U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains on Saturday in Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium. Puck drop is scheduled for Saturday at 7:15 pm, and temperatures are expected to be near 70° after a daytime high of 80°. The ice will be protected from the sun's heat during the day by an insulated, heat-reflecting Mylar blanket, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. A 53-foot truck that houses pumps and refrigeration equipment will circulate glycol coolant at the rate of 1,000 gallons a minute through ice pans set up beneath the ice to keep the ice temperature at 22 degrees.

Figure 3. California Governor Jerry Brown holds a chart showing statewide average precipitation as he declares a drought state of emergency for California during a news conference on January 17, 2014 in San Francisco. At his State of the State address on Wednesday, Governor Brown said, "we do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.” Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The forecast: no drought relief in sight
Less than an inch of precipitation has fallen over more than 95% of the state so far in January 2014, and the prospects for significant rain through the end of January look bleak. The large and persistent ridge of high pressure that has set up over the West Coast and shows no signs of budging. Since rain-bearing low pressure system tend to travel along the axis of the jet stream, these storms are being carried along the axis of the ridge, well to the north of California and into Southeast Alaska, leaving California exceptionally dry. Over the past few days, the GFS and European models have at times predicted that the ridge would weaken in 8 - 10 days and allow rain to move into Northern California. However, these forecasts have not been consistent, and forecasts that far into the future are not reliable, as it is very difficult to dislodge such a persistent and strong upper-level wind pattern.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.