El Niño Temporarily Moves Aside For Unexpected Warm Temperatures


What happened to El Niño?

Winter forecasts suggested California was bracing for rain, snow, flooding and mudslides in 2016.

Not this.

Not shorts, flip flops and sunshine.

Fullerton was the hottest city in the United States on Monday, topping out at 89 degrees.

The unexpected heat wave in the middle of February set a new record at the Los Angeles International Airport (89 degrees) and downtown San Francisco tied a record with 74 degrees.

More potential records were on tap for later in the week. Temperatures could reach into the 90s in Southern California.

“We are currently under a strong ridge of high pressure (dry and warm weather),” National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle Mead said. “That is driving the storm track north and east of California.”

Northern California was preparing for record-setting heat on Tuesday.

Fairfield (69 degrees) was projected to surpass its previous record of 65. Stockton, Shasta Dam and Blue Canyon were all expected to either equal or eclipse past highs.

Other cities such as Redding, Red Bluff, Modesto and Grass Valley were also threatening respective records.

Whereas the Midwest and eastern parts of the United States were still dealing with winter-type temperatures and precipitation, the majority of the West, including Oregon and Washington, had no threats of consistent rain or snow in the immediate forecast.

Arizona, New Mexico and Texas also had temperatures soaring into the high 70s and low 80s.

The anticipation of El Niño was expected to at least put a dent into California’s historic drought of four-plus years. Nearly the entire state is still in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, despite an optimistic start to winter.

“The main thing to note here is while there are some slight improvements, we’re still in severe and extreme drought,” Mead said. “Also, these should be considered short-term gains, as we’ll have to wait and see if precipitation continues and these improvements can be sustained into our spring and summer season.”

While Northern California is 105 percent above normal snowpack in the Sierras, Southern California is below average of rainfall, with downtown Los Angeles less than 52 percent of normal since Oct. 1.

“We are very happy to have the rain we’ve seen and we’d like to have it spread out over the next several months,” said Kim Zagaris, Chief for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Fire and Rescue Division.

With unseasonal February temperatures, there is unusual concern this time of year about fire danger. Ventura firefighters dealt with a brush fire on Sunday that briefly threatened homes.

Warm temperatures also may lead to heat-related concerns such as heat exhaustion.

“It can be deceiving,” said Zagaris of heat in the winter months. “It’s important to drink water to start the day; most people drink coffee in the morning. Then keeping drinking water all day to stay hydrated.”

The possibility of wildfires increase without rain or snow in the extended forecast, combined with heat and the state’s prolonged drought.

“Fire season is all year long,” Zagaris said “We have times there are more peak seasons than others, but we treat it as being all year long.”

Even with the recent warming trend, the National Weather Service insists El Niño isn’t done. Having a dry spell in winter months isn’t uncommon, as it’s typical to see a 10-day to two-week dry period during the state’s wettest months.

Long-term models indicate this ridge may be more of a 21-day break, but do hint that the ridge will weaken and allow storms to move back into California approximately by late next week.

“Overall the Central and northern portion of the state have fared pretty well so far to date this winter season,” said Mead. “The bad news is since February is one of the very wet months of the six-month wet season, a ten-day to two-week dry spell can quickly bring seasonal averages back to or below normal.”

Until the storms resume, Zagaris cautioned about dealing with warm temperatures.

“You should always be safe when out and about in open areas and always think about personal safety,” he said.

Additional information on Cal OES Fire and Rescue can be located here.


Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) 2017 wildfires, and statewide wildfire siege in 2018 . Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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