U.S. Winter a Study in Contrasts From East to West

Boston and San Francisco, at opposite ends of the contiguous U.S., are a study in winter’s contrasts.

Boston is weighed down under more than a year’s supply of snow after its snowiest week on record. San Francisco just marked its first January in 165 years without a drop of rain.

For Bostonians, this is, generally speaking, a big nuisance that will melt away before long. For drought-stricken Californians, it’s serious trouble. January is one of the key months when they get most of their water in the form of rain and snow.

“January was pretty dismal across California in general,” said Rob Hartman, hydrologist in charge at the California Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento. “To miss out on that is rather devastating.”

Through Monday, 53.4 inches of snow (136 centimeters) had fallen this season in Boston, putting the city 29.4 inches above what it usually gets in a year. Ten days earlier, Boston lagged behind a typical season by 9.8 inches and had received only 10.6.

Chicago is 13.4 inches over its norm, and even New York, which avoided direct hits from two big storms in one week, is 7.4 inches ahead.

For the West, next up is a storm coming off the Pacific Ocean that’s forecast to bring heavy rain across northern California, Washington and Oregon, said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

No Drought-Buster

Austin Cross, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey, California, said he doesn’t think the storm will be enough to put much of a dent in the state’s three-year drought. The state hasn’t had a good soaking since December.

“We’re expecting up to an inch and half in the city,” Cross said. “It’s not a lot, but every bit helps.”

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency one year ago, calling on residents to curb water use by 20 percent and warning of possible mandatory restrictions. The state Water Resources Control Board announced Tuesday that California for the first time met that goal, with water use down 22 percent in December compared with a year earlier.

The new storm will probably miss Southern California, which didn’t get much rain from the last big one, Hartman said. After that passes, the high-pressure ridge that has kept California dry for most of January probably will begin to rebuild, meaning the spigot gets turned off, Cross said.

“It’s not the beginning of a really wet pattern,” he said.

Weather Patterns

High pressure in the western U.S. is a good indication temperatures will drop in the East. The pattern for much of the first part of 2015 is that a ridge of high pressure parked over the West sent a trough of low pressure and cold air across the East.

The upper Great Plains across the Great Lakes and into New England will probably remain cold this week, Burke said. So don’t expect those snowbanks in Chicago or Boston to melt anytime soon.

As the Pacific storm makes its way inland, another storm has the potential to develop off the East Coast on Thursday into Friday, Burke said. Right now, it doesn’t look as though it will be particularly powerful, he said.

And that Pacific storm?

By early next week, there’s that Pacific energy could help a low-pressure system form off the Atlantic coast. That storm, too, isn’t likely to be a big one, Burke said. It’s still a little too early to tell.

“It looks like the rest of February is going to be a lot of cold shots coming into the Northeast and a cold and stormy pattern for the eastern half of the nation,” said Carl Erickson, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

Great. Can’t wait.

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