Weather Blog

Looking for sun in California? Good luck with that...

Looking for sun in California? Good luck with that...
The first of two storms arrives Thursday afternoon, Feb. 5, 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Luis Sinco)

With the recent quasi cold snap, many people might be thinking now is the time to head for Sea-Tac and find a place with some nicer weather.  But there are several places that have had it worse than us lately.

In fact, many might be eyeing Seattle as a good place to get away from the weather for a while.

In between our January flooding and the two day bout with flurries, Seattle has had only 0.51" of rain, or 10% of our normal amount.

Wonder where our rain went? California, which has become the new home to the jet stream and has taken the brunt of a series of storms.

Since Thursday, LAX has seen four days with more than 0.20" of rain, totaling 1.59" in all, and the long range models predict six more moderate to major rainstorms heading into central and southern California between now and Feb. 27th.

Sound familiar? That is exactly our normal winter pattern. Only the jet stream is locked in a rather unusual path, arcing way up north into southern Alaska, then south a ways off the Washington and Oregon Coast, then turning southeast and plowing into first the San Francisco Bay area, then digging further south into the Los Angeles area before turning east and shuttling these storms across the south/central section of the U.S.

Here is a forecast chart of the jet stream.  The colored areas are areas of high wind speed in the upper levels -- basically painting where the jet stream is. (The state borders are hard to see, so I Photoshopped in a rough outline of Washington and Oregon.)



Note that while California gets wet from time to time, and February is their rainiest month, they usually don't get a series of storms like this unless it's an El Nino year (which it's not. We're in the opposite La Nina pattern now), and even in El Nino years, this is not the typical way they get wet. 

In an El Nino year, the polar jet stream, which is the one that affects us in the mid-latitudes, is pointed way north into B.C., leaving the Northwest dry, and the southern tropical jet -- normally weaker and roosting around Mexico -- to push north into California, steering warmer systems straight into California from the tropical Pacific. 

But as I mentioned, this time, they're getting their systems from the polar jet.  The Northwest is just to the east of the current jet stream path, which is why our forecast is drier now for the next few days as the storms are expected to pass far enough to our west on their way south to California to keep us dry, but with the northerly flow, it's also why we were cool enough to have some snow earlier this week, and why we're expected to be a bit cooler this week as well.

Wacky Weather Elsewhere

But it's not just California with the interesting weather this week.  Those cold storms that went through over the past weekend also blew through Arizona. Flagstaff reported 29 inches of snow in the three day period between Saturday and Monday night. It even snowed a bit in Tucson.

This storm system then moved into the Midwest, where it is currently responsible for the massive tornado outbreaks.