Dry Southern California winter caps driest year on record

To put a twist on Bob Dylan’s lyrics from Subterranean Homesick Blues, you don’t need a weatherman to know it has been dry in Southern California.

How dry has it been? Well according to Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service, it’s been the driest calendar year since 1877. Only a precious 3.05 inches of rain fell on downtown Los Angeles since January 1 of 2013. A normal year would deliver 14.93 inches, and 2012 saw 8.15. 

There is still hope for normal rainfall totals for the season, measured from July 1 to June 30, because the wettest months are typically in late winter and early spring. However, up to this six-month point we have seen less than an inch of rain.

With dangerously cold air predicted for New Year’s Day in the northern plains and upper Midwest, one might find it hard to complain about Claremont’s predicted high in the 70s. But low rainfall not only threatens our water supply, it also exacerbates fire danger and could extend the fire season.

The lack of precipitation also affects the skiing conditions in the local mountains and revenue for businesses such as the Mount Baldy Ski Lifts. General Manager Robby Ellingson noted that there have been just three storms so far this year that dropped three or four inches of snow each, far less than what they need to open. Fortunately, the resort installed a nine million gallon reservoir five years ago so they are able to make snow when the conditions allow.

In a good season, Mr. Ellingson further remarked, the ski lifts will earn 90% of their annual income during the winter. The last couple of years’ winter revenues have been closer to 50%. “So far this year we are behind but with three solid months of winter to go we’re still optimistic the season could turn okay.” He said.

Because of a cold snap in early December, the resort was able to make enough snow to open the tubing area and the beginners slope. The more technical routes, however, remain closed.

Mr. Ellingson watches the weather closely but notes, “There has not been much to monitor lately.” The temperature at Mount Baldy’s Top of the Notch restaurant, elevation 7800 feet, on Tuesday was 57 degrees, hardly what one thinks of as winter weather. “These temps are completely abnormal,” said Mr. Ellingson, adding that highs in the 40s and lows in the teens would be more typical.

The warm temperature did not dampen the fun for families enjoying an afternoon of tubing on Mount Baldy.

Fontana resident Richard Lafianaza and his children Michelle and Peter spent Monday afternoon at the ski lifts playing in the snow. He did not mind the lack of winter weather and remarked “It’s still fun if you have kids.” Plus, the warm temperature means the parents don’t shiver while watching from the sidelines.

The forecast for the first few days of 2014 looks like much of the same: dry with mild temperatures, so go outside and enjoy the California sun.

—Steven Felschundneff



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