California has warmest winter ever (or at least since 1895)

A surfer braves the waves amid strong Santa Ana winds off the Southern California coast, where temperatures topped 80 degrees at the beach Thursday.
(Lenny Ignelzi / AP)

While the East looks like a scene from Disney’s “Frozen,” California is in the midst of its warmest winter for at least 120 years.

The average temperature was 47.8, 5.1 degrees warmer than the 20th century average temperature of 42.7 from December to January, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

If you like your winters cold -- though maybe not quite so cold that you have to dig out from under snow -- then California’s winter has been disappointing.


Hot and cold winter: L.A., N.Y. get extreme

The two-month period of December and January was only the 120th coolest going back to 1895, when officials began keep records. The coldest period was 1949, when the average temperature was 39.5.

Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said the extreme differences in the frigid East and toasty West Coast are the “old normal.”

The same weather pattern has persisted for the last 3 1/2 and is tied to the drought, which has entered its fourth year in California.

The Western U.S. is essentially protected by a high-pressure system known as the “ridiculously resilient ridge,” he said. The jet stream has bypassed the Western U.S., swooped into Canada and pummeled the East Coast, where residents are suffering from the icy temperatures.

“This year, it’s really on steroids,” Patzert said of the cold weather descending back East.


Warm water temperatures and extremely dry conditions have kept California balmy.

In downtown Los Angeles alone, January was 4 degrees above the 1980–2010 average. Out of 31 days, 15 were above 75 degrees. January storms brought only 1.09 inches of rain, Patzert said.

And February has been much warmer, he said. February also only saw 0.9 inches of rain. And so far, 10 days have been above 75 degrees.

Patzert described the last two months as “record-breaking hot and extremely dry” for a rainy season.

“It’s been an exceptionally warm winter in the Western U.S.,” he said.

California had its fourth driest January on record, going back to the late 19th century.

Brad Pugh, meteorologist with the prediction center, said that the dry conditions in Northern California have eased a bit, but extreme and exceptional conditions continued for the rest of the state.

It’s all bad news for the ski resorts in Northern California.

Dire snow conditions at Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows in North Lake Tahoe forced organizers to cancel two skicross and snowboardcross events.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA