Dry, hot California winter closes ski resorts, stalls wildflower blooms and revives drought fears

Paige St. John, Rong-Gong Lin II and Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

TRUCKEE, Calif. -- In the Sierra Nevada, snowpack levels are running below even the darkest days of the drought, with cross-country ski resorts closed and mountain biking becoming the sport of choice until the snow returns.

In the Bay Area, cities like San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Rosa are experiencing the hottest starts to a year on record.

And Southern California remains in the grip of unprecedented dry and hot conditions, despite a weak storm that moved in Monday.

February is historically a wet month, but not this year. And the long-term forecast offers little hope for relief.

"If you're buying rainfall stocks, go short," said climatologist Bill Patzert. "Essentially, that storm we had in Montecito was the only major storm we've had in the last 12 months. It stopped raining in mid-February 2017, and, you know, there hasn't been much rain since."

Southern California is desperate for rain, but this week's precipitation is expected to be so paltry experts are loathe to even call it an actual storm.

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"While many places may see some light, showery precipitation this week, it does not appear that this event will bring the kind of widespread significant rain and snow that is currently needed," said University of California, Los Angeles climate scientist Daniel Swain. At this rate, by Feb. 19, L.A. is on track to have a full year with only one day of significant rain -- the day that brought deadly mudslides to Montecito in Santa Barbara County.

Downtown L.A. has seen only 1.96 inches since July 1, less than one-quarter the historical average for this time of year, which is 8.54 inches. The last time Los Angeles broke the record for the driest year was when 3.21 inches of rain fell for the rain year that ended June 30, 2007.

The odds are that California will have below-average precipitation through the rest of February, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center. And the main culprit, an intensely persistent mass of high pressure, refuses to budge in any significant way.

This time last year on the Sierra Nevada's Donner Pass -- amid a record wettest year in the northern Sierra -- heavy snows pushed cabins from their foundations, and buried cars within 20-foot snowbanks, only to be uncovered and sliced by snowplows struggling to keep access to the packed resorts open.


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