Western Regional Climate Center


January in the West

January 2015

January was warmer than normal for a majority of the West, with the greatest departures from normal observed in the Great Basin and along the borders between Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Persistent high pressure over the West Coast kept California, Oregon, and Nevada drier than normal. Several storms skirted the ridge, delivering above normal precipitation to the Desert Southwest and the northern tier of the West.

Areas that do not typically receive a large portion of their annual precipitation in January saw above normal totals this month. In northeastern New Mexico, Clayton, reported its wettest January in a 118-year record at 1.56 in (40 mm) for the month, 457% of normal. January is typically the driest month of the year at Clayton. Further west, Winslow, Arizona, observed 1.63 in (41mm) this month. This is 1.11 in (28 mm) above normal and the 4th wettest January in a 123-year record, and also roughly 21% of Winslow’s annual rainfall. Winslow typically receives only 6% of its annual rainfall in January. In southern Arizona, Tucson observed its 4th wettest January in a 69-year record with 2.54 in (65 mm), 270% of normal. On January 30th, an upper level low-pressure system combined with a warm sub-tropical air mass led to Tucson recording its wettest January day on record at 1.39 in (35 mm). To the north, in Montana, January is typically one of the drier months of the year with normal precipitation totals less than 1 in (25 mm). In the north-central part of the state, Havre receive 1.3 in (33 mm) precipitation, 394% of normal and the 3rd wettest January since records began in 1961. In the southern part of the state, Billings received 227% normal precipitation and also recorded its 8th snowiest January (18.7 in/48 cm) since records began in 1934. The far northern Cascades as well as the northern Rockies accumulated snow this month and reported snow water equivalent (SWE) values slightly below to slightly above normal. The central and southern Rockies saw SWE values in the 75-90% of normal range at the end of the month.

Following a wet December, drier to much drier than normal conditions returned to California, Nevada, and Oregon this month, with precipitation less than 50% of normal across large portions of these states. SWE values in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades were only 20-40% of normal at the end of the month. In California, San Francisco recorded no January precipitation for the first time in its long 167-year record; normal is 4.5 in (114 mm). The previous record for driest January was set last year, 0.06 in (2 mm) in 2014. Sacramento also experienced its driest January on record with a total of 0.01 in (0.3 mm). Records for Sacramento began in 1877. In far northern California, only 1.73 in (44 mm) fell in the gauge at Crescent City. This is 8.66 in (220 mm) below normal and the driest January at Crescent City since records began in 1949. Across the border in Oregon, Klamath Falls recorded 0.4 in (10 mm) in January, 22% of normal and the 5th driest since records began in 1948. Further east, 0.2 in (5 mm) of precipitation were recorded in Elko, Nevada, 18% of normal. Elko typically observes 10.5 in (27 cm) snowfall in January, though only trace snowfall was reported this month. Only 5 other Januaries in Elko’s 128-year record have had no measurable snowfall. Southwest Wyoming and northwest Colorado also saw a large area of below normal precipitation this month. Precipitation at Rock Springs, Wyoming, totaled 0.01 in (0.3 mm). This was 2% of normal and the driest January since records began in 1948.

Warmer than normal temperatures generally accompanied dry conditions this month. In southern California, Los Angeles recorded its 6th warmest January in a 139-year record at 62 F (16.7 C), 4 F (2.2 C) above normal. The average January temperature at Klamath Falls, Oregon was 37.0 F (2.8 C), 6.8 F (3.8 C) above normal and the 2nd warmest on record. January temperatures averaged to 33.7 F (1 C) in Elko, Nevada, 8.6 F (4.8 C) above normal and the 5th warmest since temperature records began in 1890. Rock Springs, Wyoming recorded an average temperature of 29 F (-1.7 C) this month, 7.6 F (4.2 C) above normal and the 3rd warmest January on record.

Precipitation was below normal across the state of Hawaii this month. These conditions prompted the US Drought Monitor to increase drought designations of abnormally dry or moderate drought from only 32% of the state in December to 100% of the state by late January. Further north, temperatures were above normal throughout Alaska with the greatest departures from normal observed in the Southeast region. Juneau observed its wettest January on record with 11.98 in (304 mm) precipitation, 224% of normal. This was also the 6th warmest January at Juneau with an average temperature of 35.1 F (1.7 C) for the month, 6.8 F (3.8 C) above normal. Records for Juneau began in 1936.

Significant Events for January 2015

January 1: Snowstorm travel impacts in northern Arizona: Snow led to slick roads and vehicle accidents along portions of Interstate 17 and Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. Road closures due to accidents impacted travel and left many stranded. Snowfall totals for Coconino County Dec 31-Jan 1 were in the 12-18+ in range (30-45 cm).

January (all month): Extreme drought continues into 4th winter in California, western Nevada, and southeastern Oregon: A warm and dry January exacerbated drought conditions in these regions and depleted snowpack in the Cascades and Sierra. Impacts of the ongoing drought include concerns over water resources, municipalities running out of water, agricultural losses, reduction of jobs in the agricultural sector, increased food prices, and impacts on winter recreation-related businesses.

© Western Regional Climate Center