With the exception of some precipitation in the mountains Thursday, the near non-stop sunny and warm weather has dominated January. We checked in with a climatologist, who has long studied the Eastern Sierra, for a view on what’s happening in our atmosphere.
Dan Cayan, Climate Researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, says there is no obvious answer to the question of the relentless high pressure system over the West.
Cayan has studied the Eastern Sierra for many years as part of the California weather patterns and through the eyes of Global Warming research. Cayan said the “$64,000 question is why does the persistent pattern in the atmosphere continue to be so tenacious. I’m not sure,” he said, “that there is a great answer.” He did say dry weather in the West and the polar system in the East and North are actually one big weather system of a high ridge and a polar pattern.
Cayan looked back at 1977 which he called a “somewhat similar form of current weather.” That year was extremely dry in California. Cayan said the last couple of weeks have begun to resemble 1977. He said one big question is will the pattern break down? In the next week, Cayan said, it doesn’t look like it.
On the hopeful side, Cayan said February is a “decent month for California precipitation. It’s not,” he said, “as if the winter is over.” He added that it will be difficult to climb out of the hole we’re in water-wise.
Some national media have blamed an ocean phenomenon for the drought. It’s called Pacific Decadal Oscillation, in which the sea surface temperatures impact climate – similar to but different from the El Nino/ La Nina effect. Cayan said there is now a “weird pattern which is not totally Decadal Oscillation.” Climatologists disagree over the ocean’s impact on atmosphere or the other way around.
Does he think we’re in an extended drought? Cayan said it’s hard to tell. What we need, he said, is what’s known as a Pineapple Express, or heavy wet system, to “replenish the deficit.” Cayan did say as we get further into the winter, the odds of snow are against us.
But the climatologist did say that just because we’re in a dry spell does not mean we should fear a perpetual dry stretch. Said Cayan, “Eventually, we will see a reversal.”