Hot, Dry Weather Could Cut Into California’s Snowpack
Hello, it’s me.
Words made famous by Adele could just as easily apply to what’s about to happen in California. An unwelcome call is coming from across the Pacific for a state still struggling with drought.
A ridge of high pressure is coming to the state, harkening back to the ridiculously resilient ridge of the past few years and butting into California’s burgeoning love affair with El Niño. It could set back California’s snowpack and break heat records.
A ridge of high pressure will deflect storms away from California and send temperatures climbing 10-15°F above normal over the next week.
Credit: NWS Sacramento
Snowpack is the highest it’s been in five years. While it’s not quite rolling in the deep, all regions of California are reporting slightly above average snowpack for this time of year. And as the heart of the wet season approaches, most Californians were hoping their state and El Niño would be moving from puppy love to a full-blown relationship.
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Instead, high pressure is muscling its way between California and any storm systems for at least the week or so.
"I would not say it's the return of the 'Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,'" Daniel Swain, a California weather expert at Stanford University, said in an email. "While we'll certainly have a ridge, and and it will be pretty impressive ('ridiculous,' one could say), it hasn't yet been resilient."
California snowpack percentages for the year as of Friday, Feb. 5.
Credit: California Department of Water Resources
The National Weather Service’s Sacramento office describes it as El Niño taking a 5-10 day break. It’s not quite accurate in the sense that El Niño is still going strong in the Pacific, but it is accurate in the sense that wet weather usually associated with El Niño is drying up for California. Storms are forecast to steer clear of the state as a ridge of high pressure shunts them to north.
From north to south, California will bake with temperatures running 10-15°F above normal through the end of next week. Both the Sacramento and Los Angeles National Weather Service offices are forecasting highs that could challenge daily records. Forecast highs in and around L.A. are in the mid-80s next week. The mountains will also be warm and that's bad news for snowpack.
Peter Gleick, a climate expert at the Pacific Institute, warned that seven days of sustained warmth could melt as much as 30 percent of California’s snowpack.
The hot, dry weather is exactly what baked in exceptional drought in California over the past four years. Some signs indicate the heat is driven in large part by climate change, but the role of the ridiculously resilient ridge is still an area of active investigation.
It’s also true that a few strong storms could build it back up. But for a state missing a year’s worth of precipitation, any loss is bad news.
“California has a fickle wet season,” Gleick said. “All it takes to go from wet to dry are slight changes in storm patterns. If moisture from the Pacific goes north, or south, and if temperatures rise, a winter that starts off looking decent or even wet can turn around quickly.”
Beyond the next week, rumor has it that California is still likely in for a wetter than normal month. And on the bright side, the timing of the ridge’s arrival is great for the Super Bowl, which will have clear and warm weather.
Still, time hasn’t healed California’s drought yet and the return of a jilted ridge is not a welcome one.