While the weather around here so far this winter has not been too newsworthy in terms of precipitation and temperatures, what has been going on in California and Europe has been quite amazing. There has been talk in recent years that this latest drought in California was going to be different this time and more of a “permanent” drought and there was also some talk that European winters would soon be lacking in snow – to say that both of these ideas are being seriously challenged this winter is quite an understatement. In California, incredible amounts of rain have piled up in recent days across low-lying areas of the state, mountains of snow have accumulated in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains - and much more is on the way. Meanwhile, Europe has experienced severe cold and substantial snow in recent weeks - and much more is about to punish that continent.
California’s rain and snow
There has been so much snow in recent days across California and several other western states (e.g., Nevada, Colorado) that many ski resorts have been forced to close down. Up to ten feet of snow in the past several days has caused the closure of many roads leading to ski resorts such as Woodward Tahoe and Kirkwood in California and the most extreme snow report has come from Mount Rose where 25 feet has accumulated during the recent series of storms. Ski conditions in the Sierra Nevada will no doubt be excellent for weeks to come and more snow is on the way. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada - and more specifically snowmelt - is crucial to California’s water supply during the rest of the year long after the snow has ended.
Reservoirs in California have seen a significant boost to water content, according to Mercury News, with upwards of 350 billion gallons accounted for as of the last round of storms. Since January 1st, Lake Tahoe has actually risen nearly a foot as a result of the heavy rain and snow according to the National Weather Service. The drought in California actually started to improve quite a bit during the last several months as outlined here and it is now virtually over in the northern half of the state according to NOAA's US Drought Monitor. The first storm in the series arrived in the middle of last week and brought rain to northern and central California. A second storm occurred over the weekend (January 7 and 8) and brought heavy rains again to mostly northern and central California although southern California also received significant amounts. This second event led to widespread flooding, downed trees and mudslides; especially, in the Sierra Nevada where hurricane force winds took place and Interstate 80 was closed due to a massive mudslide.
The latest computer model forecast of upper-level winds for next week (Monday, 1/16 to Saturday, 1/21) does not hold out much hope for any significant drying in California. Powerful winds in the upper atmosphere (250 mb) will continuously pound California and bring copious amounts of moisture from the Pacific Ocean into the state. The total precipitation forecast map by NOAA for the next 7 days indicates more significant rainfall (and snowfall) is likely; especially, across northern sections of California.
Europe’s cold and snow
The last seven days have featured severe cold in much of Europe and the forecast for the next ten days continues that same punishing trend. In addition, predicted snowfall over the next ten days is so widespread that it covers virtually all parts of Europe including places way down in the southern part of the continent like Crete (Greece) and Sicily (Italy).
Normally, winter hits hard across the northern half of Europe, but this winter season even southern areas like Greece and Italy have been included in the wrath of winter. In fact, Greece has been especially hard hit. Several Greek islands, known for their usual sunny and warm weather, are taking a pounding this year with record snowfall and freezing cold. The most recent storm dropped several feet of snow on three islands in the Aegean (Euboia, Alonnisos and Skopelos) forcing Greek authorities to declare a state of emergency. Communication lines have been cut, roads have been closed, and schools remain closed in many parts of the country.
In Italy, heavy snow has fallen in central parts of the country as a result of cold air flowing across the warmer Adriatic Sea and the sustained cold has caused the fountains in St Peter’s Square (Vatican City) to freeze over. Snow has been reported all the way down to Sicily and more is forecasted throughout the country over the next ten days.
This period of exceptional cold has been deadly; especially in eastern and central Europe. There have been over 60 deaths just in the first part of January with major disruptions to power supplies and other essential infrastructure. Temperatures in some parts of European Russia fell to below −40 °C (−40 °F) setting records across the region and deaths have been reported from Russia and Ukraine. About 100,000 residents of settlements in Moscow have lost electricity due to the extremely harsh temperatures. January 7th was reportedly the coldest Orthodox Christmas in Moscow in the last 120 years at −29.9 °C (−21.8 °F). One final note, the Danube River - the longest river in the Europe - has been freezing over which happened last in 2012, but before that hadn’t happened in 25 years.
Meteorologist Paul Dorian