Is January Another Dry, Warm Month? Why, And What Does That Mean?

Unprecedented drought previously unknown in CA recorded history

From Atmospherics Group International


We’ve been compiling Climate Data for the past 3 days since the GFS has flipped to a dry mode which is trending closer and closer toward the end of the month of January.  Since the forecast is rather benign, except for the nightly frost, and the possible heat wave this coming week, we’ve spent the past 3 days re-configuring the Climate Analysis.   Enjoy the reading below.  




Stepping ahead in time and assuming that the GFS forecast of continued dry conditions for CA persists thru January 31, the following forecasts are made thru CLIMATE ANALYSIS  (If the GFS Forecast charts suddenly flip/flops to a wet mode for the remainder of January…and is verified, then this Analysis is voided);


·         By adding a Record-Setting dry January to the current Water Year reveals very few past Water Years which even remotely resemble a similar pattern to the current season!  No year recorded in CA historical climate records closely approximates this current season.  The 2013-14 season is truly unprecedented and exceeds previous drought year indexes by a large gap.   We are running out of adjectives to describe the severity of the situation.

·         The analysis forecasts zero chance of CA rainfall reaching or exceeding normal for the remainder of the Season for either NOR/CENCAL as regions.

·         The magnitude of the current deficit in rainfall figures far exceeds any previous records for NORCAL, beating 1977 by 40%, beating 1976 by 74% and beating 1924 by 63%.  1924 ranks as the driest Season for the Northern Sierra Index, with 1977 as second driest.

·         The analysis forecasts NORCAL chances of catastrophic dryness of reaching 40 PON for NORCAL at 66%

·         The analysis forecasts NORCAL chances of catastrophic dryness of reaching 65 PON for NORCAL at 33%

·         The analysis forecasts NORCAL chances of a wet to extremely wet February or March at 17%, with chances of an average February or March near 10%

·         The magnitude of the current deficit in rainfall figures far exceeds any previous records for CENCAL, beating 1977 by 44%, beating 1976 by 69% and beating 1924 by 56%.  1924 ranks as the driest Season for the San Joaquin Index, with 1977 as second driest.

·         The analysis forecasts CENCAL chances of catastrophic dryness of reaching 45 PON for CENCAL at 66%

·         The analysis forecasts CENCAL chances of catastrophic dryness of reaching 62 PON for CENCAL at 33%

·         The analysis forecasts CENCAL chances of a wet to extremely wet February or March at 33%, with chances of an average February or March at 25%, with chances of a repeat Miracle March 1991 (3X normal) at 8%.

·         The analysis concludes that CA is entering never-observed/recorded, uncharted climate extreme for Drought during Water Year 2014, so therefore the Climate Analysis must be regarded with caution, since this year shatters previous records, unusual wx would not be surprising.

·         An unusually hot summer is expected by the CPC for CA with Record-Setting Heat possible during either Jun/July/Aug.  This forecast is not associated with the Climate Analysis listed above and is issued by NOAA’s CPC.  This is referenced due to the severity of the Drought conditions for CA this season.



0Z GFS 16-Day QPF ending Wed, January 29, 2014 showing most of CA bone dry with scant light rainfall into the far northern counties.  This is the third day which has illustrated a drier scenario for CA, shifting the incoming heavy rain event northward into BC, Canada with up to 15 to 20 inches.




Water Wars looming;  Modesto Bee article link;



Drought/Cold Feature Revealed


The most likely causative Wx Feature producing the resilient, persistent High Pressure ridge over or near the West Coast is revealed in the following chart attached below ↓ which depicts Sea Surface Temperature (SST) Anomalies for Earth on Christmas Day 2013.  Note the glaringly huge “dark red” bulls-eye shaped spot that is by far the most predominant anomaly with a large-scale magnitude in both size as well as the amplitude of the Anomaly, showing a +3° Standard Deviation Anomaly covering a massive area in the NE PAC basin.  It is monstrous in aerial size and offers the simplest explanation as to why;  1) the severe record-setting drought continues to persist over CA during the typical rainy season, 2) the cold ARCTIC temps are common this season in the central CONUS or occasionally into the West Coast as experienced in December.  Also note the cooler than average Anomaly showing -1°to -1.5° shaded areas from southern Japan eastward to the Dateline AND along the West Coast of NA from BC, Canada southward to Pt Conception.  The thermal gradient ribbon placed between the two differing anomalies offers a pathway for the upper Jet Stream to cross the WPAC and then divert NE over the top of the West Coast ridge by the huge +3° warm anomaly in the NE PAC and by following the differing thermal gradient ribbon that exists due west of the West Coast of NA. The blue line expresses the upper Jet Stream pathway following the thermal gradient ribbon.   Until the latent heat energy in the +3° Anomaly diminishes or moves …or the nearby -1.5 cooler Anomaly diminishes or moves, the predominant pattern for the West Coast is unlikely to change soon.





It has been said that California has four season’s; earthquake, fire, flood and drought, and that the history of California is written on its waters, with no area more critical than the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their great Delta and San Francisco Bay estuary.  If the State’s history is written of the waters, then that history is possibly to be rewritten very soon.  With the current Long Range GFS Forecast charts consistently trending dry through Jan 28/29, the chances that the month of January 2014 may join the ultra dry preceding months is growing, heightening the severity of the Drought conditions significantly.   Reservoirs that were used to sustain the 20M population of CA during the Drought in 1976-77 are holding less water today, with a CA population of 38M in 2014.  The CA State water infrastructure has not been improved since 1960 when it was built to sustain an estimated population of 16-18M.  To many Californians the bitter experiences of the 1976-77 Drought has been relegated to memory and for many only exist as remembrances of past inconveniences.  However, the lessons from the 1976-77 Drought have become a fixed way of life for many and has changed the awareness that the State of CA water supply scarcity can descend with astonishing swiftness…as it is currently doing.  Drought is a natural variance of climate and the CA climate history shows us no guarantees for a regularly scheduled annual water supply.  Quite the contrary, climate does show that high variability in the annual precipitation totals are highly consistent.  Prior models used for building the bulk of the CA water supply network were based upon data from the CA drought period of 1928-34 which served for decades as the basis for most modern NORCAL water projects.   The tremendous water demands due to rapid population increases and the attendant water use for the continuance of a thriving CA agricultural industry are factors which are yet to be reckoned with in 2014.  Speculation about what the weather will be like in the next upcoming months is useful only in establishing a framework for planning, but first we much know the true extent of the actual water resources.  The current precipitation tabulations and indexes show that CA is in much worse shape than during the corresponding dates during the Drought in 1976-77, by a factor of nearly 2 as compared to 1977 and by a factor of over 3 as compared to 1976 and this is especially relevant for the Sierra Precipitation Indexes if January closes with its present rainfall totals, which for the Southern Sierra has been zero.   Therefore the worse-case planning scenario based upon the prior 1976-77 precipitation totals could be grossly inadequate to handle the magnitude of the developing 2013-14 Drought.  The ensuing social and economic ramifications are very serious and we strongly urge everyone to prepare accordingly.   


The impacts of droughts all have to do with activities that require water in order to be sustained.  Farming, wildlife, ecosystems, the economy, society, people, communities, forests, parks, rivers, lakes, and even fires.  Drought has helped shape American society as we know it today, especially in CA, as the evidenced by the fact that the Great Midwestern Drought of the 1930’s Dust Bowl era brought many emigrants to CA.     


The End-of-the-Month for January will be a pivotal moment in CA history as precipitation totals are tallied and analyzed into the Climate Data Base for comparisons.  Unless the latest trend from the GFS Forecast charts for the remainder of the month of January flip/flops into a very wet mode, the historic dryness over CA may possibly add another month to an unprecedented Drought already previously unknown in CA recorded history.  By the way, the current Seasonal Precip Totals make the 1976-77 Drought look wet by comparison!  The Drought of 1976-77 resulted in the driest recorded period in CA history, which could be surpassed this season unless Mother Nature does a quick about-face.  With the average annual runoff around 71M acre-feet for CA, the drought year of 1977 produced an annual runoff of only about 15M acre-feet.  On Feb 1, 1977 the storage at Pine Flat Dam on the Kings River was only at 27% of capacity, with storage at Lake McClure on the Merced River only at 21% of capacity.  Today, the storage at Pine Flat Dam is at 17% of capacity and at Lake McClure is at 22%, Hensley Lake, Lake Kaweah and Lake Success are 6% of capacity and Isabella is at 10% capacity.  Even thought the precipitation total amounts received in the Sierra are already low, they could be misleading due to the fact that the excessively warm temperatures accompanied by low dewpoints and extended periods with low 0.2 to 0.3 inch Atmospheric PWAT’s moisture along the Crest region during the season are producing high evapotranspiration rates and sublimation of the steadily shrinking snow fields at the higher elevations near the Crest.  The nightly dry NE downsloping winds along the western flank of the Sierra are heating adiabatically regularly most nights drying out the soils and forcing dewpoints into the single digit range.  Red Flag Warnings and High Wind Warnings have been issued for the Southern Sierra and Tehachapi Range mts several times recently.  The lower elevation snows are virtually gone as reported by the most recent Snow Survey.  Consider that the current San Joaquin 5-Station Index has a current value of 3 inches of accumulated precipitation that has fallen this Water Year.  Now consider that the evapotranspiration for the past 60 days at Pine Flat Dam is about 3 inches of evaporation.   So it is questionable as to how much of the 3 inches of accumulated precip for the 5-Station San Joaquin Water Year still exists!  Certainly with the evapotranspiration at such a high rate at Pine Flat, there has been a considerable amount of moisture removed from the Sierra.  The lower elevations of the Coast Range and the Sierra are so parched that the grazing grass has hardly sprouted.  In addition the unseasonable warm temps over the past several weeks is producing buds on some deciduous trees…in January!





CA State Governor Edmund G. Brown must declare a State of Emergency in the event that his administration agrees that the local governing body lacks the capacity or resources to deal with the disaster.  But first, the existence of a local emergency must be verified…which should become readily apparent to everyone on the eve of January 31, as statewide precipitation totals are tallied and added to the Seasonal Totals.  By declaring a State of Emergency, the doors open to State-funded support for distressed areas and is a prerequisite under the Federal Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”) from which the Governor can request Federal aid in the form of either a Presidential “Declaration of an Emergency” or a Presidential “Declaration of a major Disaster”.   It is ironic that Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. may hold the distinction of governing CA during its two Historic Droughts; 1976-77 and 2013-14.  Hopefully due to his previous experience in 1977, the State will have a shorter learning curve and should hopefully be able to move more quickly this time around.  


A young Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. opens the Drought Conference March 7, 1977



There are three major Federal laws enacted in 1977 designed to assist victims of a drought;


1)    The Emergency Drought Act of 1977, signed by President Carter on April 7, 1977 gave the Secretary of State the authority to institute emergency actions to mitigate the impacts and appropriated $100M to augment, utilize and conserve water.  Two amendments sponsored by the DWR were signed into law on August 17, 1977; 1) extended deadlines for construction activities and gave the USBR the flexibility needed to channel appropriations into the Act’s most effective programs, 2) signed in January 1978 provided another deadline extension for the State to recoup expenses.


2)    The Community Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1977 signed on May 23, 1977 authorizing $225M for Economic Development drought programs.


3)    Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1977 provided funds to supplement several existing emergency assistance programs administered in CA by the USBR, the Farmer’s Home Administration and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.


The Small Business Administration SBA also may offer disaster assistance under various Federal programs.




Comments, feedback and suggestions are always welcome.


Atmospherics Group International

Dan Gudgel              Steve Johnson

559-696-9697                 559-433-7316

BenitoLink Staff