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Amid record heat in Southern California, fears of new drought

Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES -- January in Southern California is typically marked by rain, chilly temperatures and snow-capped mountains.

But this month is ending on a decidedly hot and dry note, with umbrellas and sweaters giving way to bathing suits and air conditioning.

The region is in the midst of a heat wave that on Monday brought record high temperatures for the day in places such as Long Beach (91 degrees), UCLA (89), Santa Ana (88), Oxnard (87) and Newport Beach (85). At 93 degrees, Lake Forest was the hottest spot in the United States. More records could fall Tuesday, and there is no rain in the foreseeable future.

It's a repeat of the unusually hot, dry and windy weather that helped fuel huge brush fires in December. Since the end of last February, downtown Los Angeles has seen just 2.26 inches of rain -- an anemic amount over an 11-month period. Los Angeles has seen just 28 percent of its average precipitation since October -- with most of it coming from the rainstorm that caused the deadly mudslides in Santa Barbara County.

"We're about halfway through the rain season, so we've only got February and March, and they better be a miracle," said climatologist Bill Patzert. "If they're not, we just backflipped into the drought again."

The culprit has been a recurring high-pressure system over the West. "It's been a hot summer, a hot fall, and even now in the midwinter. We're talking mid-80s at the end of January? That's unheard of," Patzert said.

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"The heat today is pretty extraordinary," added UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain. "Coastal California is susceptible to midwinter heat spells, but this is a particularly extreme example -- to the point where we are breaking records."

The broiling January is part of what experts call a troubling theme. Last summer was California's hottest on record. October and November were the hottest in 122 years of record keeping for Southern California.

Dodger Stadium hosted the hottest World Series game ever (103 degrees). Downtown L.A. sweated through its hottest Thanksgiving (92 degrees) since records began being kept.

And L.A. recorded its driest March-through-December period on record, with the paltry 0.69 inches beating out the 1.24 inches that fell during the same 10-month period in 1962.

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