January in the West
Several storms affected the West this month, with above normal precipitation in many areas, and constant or added mountain snowpack. Temperatures were slightly below normal in the south and near to slightly above normal along the coast and northern tier.
Storms battered southern California and the Southwest during the first week of the month. By January 7, San Diego had already received 150% of its normal January precipitation, finishing the month with a total 3.21 in (82 mm), 162% of normal. The storms also affected Arizona, where Phoenix received 124% of its normal January precipitation in the first week of the month. January precipitation in Phoenix totaled 1.31 in (33 mm), 140% of normal. Farther north, a series of moderate storms brought precipitation throughout the month. In California’s central Valley, Fresno observed a total 4.42 in (112 mm), 202% of normal and the 5th wettest January since records began in 1948. In coastal northern California, Arcata logged its second wettest January on record at 12.3 in (312 mm), 150% of normal. Parts of the Great Basin were wet as well. Ely, Nevada, recorded 2.48 in (63 mm) precipitation, the second wettest January since records began in 1888. Much of this precipitation fell as snow; new snowfall totaled 35.4 in (90 cm) for the month, the snowiest January on record and 3rd snowiest of any month at Ely. To the east, Salt Lake City, Utah, recorded 1.94 in (49 mm), 155% of normal and 16th wettest since records began in 1928. In northwestern Colorado, Hayden observed its 11th wettest January in a 108-year record at 2.74 in (70 mm), 171% of normal. Eastern Washington also saw a large area of above normal precipitation; Wenatchee recorded its 3rd wettest January in a 58-year record with 2.22 in (56 mm), 209% of normal.
Snowpack increased or held steady for western mountains this month. The Sierra Nevada saw beneficial snowfall and ended January at 113% of normal snow water equivalent (SWE). This was the first time since 2011 that above normal snowpack was observed there at the end of January. Near to slightly above normal SWE was reported in the Cascades. SWE across Great Basin ranges was generally 150% of normal at month’s end. Much of the Rocky Mountains saw SWE values near normal. The month helped to reduce drought conditions in much of the West. The US Drought Monitor showed large areas of improvement in the eastern Great Basin, eastern Washington and Oregon, and northern Arizona.
A few areas of the West saw drier than normal conditions this month. In eastern New Mexico, Tucumcari received no measurable precipitation this month (normal is 0.46 in/12 mm). This occurred 12 other times in the station’s 76-year record. In northwestern Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Dam reported 0.05 in (1 mm), 15% of normal. Persistent drier than normal conditions along the Wyoming-Montana border have moved the area into abnormally dry/moderate drought on the US Drought Monitor.
Most locations across the West saw temperatures within 2 F (1 C) of normal. A few locations in central California and along the northern tier of the region recorded above normal temperatures. Temperatures averaged 51.8 F (11 C) in Bakersfield, California, 4 F (2 C) above normal, the 9th warmest January since records began in 1937. The eastern Great Basin and Southwest saw pockets of much cooler than normal temperatures. Ely, Nevada, recorded an average temperature of 19.4 F (-7 C), 5.9 F (3 C) below normal and the 14th coldest January since temperature records began in 1893.
Temperatures were above normal throughout the state of Alaska this month. In the coastal southwest, temperatures at King Salmon averaged to 32.4 F (0.2 C), 16.2 F (9 C) above normal and tied for 4th warmest since records began in 1917. Further inland, McGrath had its 6th warmest January in a 76-year record at 8.5 F (-13 C), 14.9 F (8.3 C) above normal. Precipitation was generally below normal for the state this month, though some areas on the southern and northern coasts saw above normal totals. Fairbanks recorded only 0.01 in (<1 mm) for the month, 2% of normal and tied with 1966 for driest January since records began in 1929. Consistent with a strong El Niño episode, Hawaii saw below normal precipitation statewide this month. Most reporting stations observed less than 25% of normal precipitation. Honolulu recorded 0.03 in (<1 mm) of rainfall for the second driest January in a 77-year record. Temperatures were near to slightly above normal for much of the state, though Hilo observed its second warmest January on record at 74.1 F (23 C), 2.7 F (1.5 C) above normal.
Significant Events for January 2016
January 5-6: Strong winter storm caused flash flooding in San Diego County: Heavy rain fell over much of San Diego County, causing flash flooding on roadways throughout the region, flooding of homes and businesses, and minor debris flows. Strong winds downed trees and caused power outages.
January (all month): Coastal erosion in Pacifica, California: High tides, high surf and heavy rains caused erosion of coastal cliffs in Pacifica, causing the city to declare a local state of emergency. The erosion threatens a number of homes along the cliff.
January 31: Major accident, closure on Interstate 80 in California due to snowstorm: Slick roads following back-to-back storms resulted in a 29 vehicle accident on I-80 near Truckee, California, closing the major highway for 2 hours.