January in the West
A strong and persistent ridge over the West Coast kept coastal states much warmer and drier than normal this month, exacerbating drought conditions that have developed over the past 30 months. The position of the ridge allowed storms to move through the northern and central Rocky Mountains, bringing above normal precipitation there.
Above normal temperatures dominated the West this month following a cooler than normal December. Many stations in California broke long-standing temperature records. On January 24th, the mercury rose to 79 F (26.1 C) in Sacramento, California, setting a new record for the highest January temperature. The previous record was 74 F (23.3 C) on January 31, 1976. The average temperature in Sacramento was 52.7 F (11.5 C), the second highest January average in the station’s 137-year record. South of there, the second warmest January in Bakersfield since records began in 1937 ended up at 54.2 F (12.3 C), with a record 12 days over 70 F (21.1 C). San Francisco downtown averaged 56.5 F (13.6 C), the 2nd warmest January in its 166-year record. Further south, Santa Maria saw its warmest January in a 67-year record at 58.6 F (14.8 C), 7.1 F above normal. This includes their all-time January high of 89 F (31.7 C), recorded on the 16th. In Nevada, Las Vegas recorded its 2nd highest average January temperature at 53.1 F (11.7 C). The temperature did not drop below freezing this month in Las Vegas, the 5th such January since records began in 1937t been observed. Elsewhere in the Southwest, Phoenix, Arizona recorded an average 59.9 F (15.5 C) for the month, the second warmest January in a 120-year record. Many locations in the Northwest had record January warmth as well. Omak, in central Washington, logged its warmest January in a 105-year record at an average 50 F (10 C), including an all-time January high of 61 F (16.1 C) on the 17th. In central Idaho, temperatures at Ketchum averaged to 25.9 F (-3.4 C) for January, the second warmest since records began in 1938.
Below normal precipitation accompanied this month’s above normal temperatures, expanding drought conditions in many western states and prompting a drought State of Emergency declaration by the Governor of California. At the beginning of the month 27.5% of California was categorized as D3 or D4 (extreme to exceptional drought) by the US Drought Monitor. By the end of January, this figure rose to 67%. In southern California, Los Angeles received no measurable January precipitation. Since records began in 1878, this has only occurred in four other years. Sacramento set a record for the longest spell of consecutive stretch with no rain at 52 days, from December 7-January 29. With a total of 0.22 in (5 mm), this January was the 3rd driest since Sacramento’s records began in 1877. San Francisco saw only 0.06 in (2 mm) of rain this for the driest January in the past 166 years. Normal January precipitation in San Francisco is 4.5 in (114 mm). Drought conditions also worsened in northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona and New Mexico this month. In Arizona, Flagstaff had a run of 39 days (December 22-January 29) without precipitation, the longest winter dry streak in the station’s 87 years of data. Albuquerque, New Mexico, also received no measurable January precipitation for the 9th time since 1897. In the Northwest, Medford, Oregon, recorded 0.78 in (20 mm) for the month, the 7th driest in a 103-year record. Yakima, Washington saw only 0.3 in (8 mm) precipitation this month, the 9th driest January in a 68-year record.
At month’s end, snowpack was very low in the northern Great Basin and coastal states. These regions saw snow water equivalent (SWE) values <75% of normal with a low of 15% of normal in the Lake Tahoe Basin of the Sierra Nevada. SWE values increased to the east, with basins in Utah and Idaho measured SWE values 50-100% of normal. Further east, most basins in western Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado had SWE values over 100% of normal. In Colorado, 14.3 in (36 cm) of snow fell in Denver for the 11th snowiest January on record. Cheyenne, Wyoming logged its 6th wettest January in a 100-year record with 1.01 in (26 mm) precipitation. Billings, Montana saw its 11th snowiest January in the past 80 years, with 18.2 in (46 cm) of snowfall this month. This winter is the 5th snowiest at Billings thus far at 55.8 in (142 cm).
Above normal temperatures and precipitation were observed throughout Alaska this month. In the South Central region of the state, Gulkana recorded 1.79 in (45 mm) precipitation for the month for its wettest January in the past 72 years. It was also the 2nd warmest January at Gulkana, where temperatures averaged to 18.5 F (-7.5 C), 21.4 F (12 C) above normal. In the central part of the state, McGrath also recorded its 2nd warmest January average at 13.5 F (-10.3 C), 20 F (11 C) above normal.
Significant Events for January 2014
January (all month): Out-of-season fires in California: Dry conditions permitted several fires to char California this month. In southern California, the Colby Fire, destroyed five residences and 10 buildings and burned 1952 acres (790 hectares). The Mission Fire in Jurupa Valley, fanned by Santa Ana winds, demolished four homes. Further north, the Soda Fire burned 1274 acres (516 hectares) in Sequoia National Forest. In northern California, the Campbell Fire charred 865 acres (350 hectares) in Lassen National Forest.
January (late month): Avalanches near Valdez, Alaska: Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain-on-snow events caused several large avalanches in South Central Alaska. The Lowe River was blocked by an avalanche 30 ft (9 m) deep and 200 yards (183 m) wide. Water backing up behind the avalanche has the potential to cause flash flooding. The Richardson Highway was also closed, cutting off land access to Valdez.