Winter Quarter is usually synonymous with cold and rain – but this year, Santa Barbara’s weather has favored bikinis over long johns.
Unusually high surface pressure that lowered temperatures and dried out winds descending from the east led to a warm February in Southern California, with an average high of 64 degrees, said Chief Climatologist Jay Lawrimore at the National Climatic Data Center.
Nationally, this winter is the fifth warmest ever recorded; the 2000 winter was the warmest.
“This one particular month is anomalous, but you can’t link one event to global warming or anything like that,” Lawrimore said.
February’s warming also represents an early stage of an El Ni–o onset, according to reports by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. El Ni–o is a persistent (two to three month) enhanced precipitation period that occurs every four to five years and can last up to 12 to 18 months. It has been nearly four years since the end of the 1997-98 El Ni–o.
UCSB geography professor Joel Michaelsen said the last string of dry winters occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but there is no scientific pattern to predict when a dry season will occur.
“February is the best time to get rain, but it’s not guaranteed,” Michaelsen said. “Nobody fully understands why it shows up sometimes and not other times.”
Consecutive years of dry winters have historically caused a shortage of water and hydroelectric power supply, but one year of below-average precipitation should not have severe consequences in Southern California.
Mike Kanno, operations manager of the Goleta Water District, said the dry winter has caused an increase in water usage for the 16,000 service connections in the city of Goleta. On average, 730 acre-feet of water are distributed in February, but last month the Goleta Water District distributed 940 acre-feet of water.
“Fortunately we have a lot of water, so it’s not a concern at this time,” Kanno said. “If we have consecutive years of low rainfall, it could be a problem.”
Santa Barbara’s water source, Lake Cachuma, is still 88 percent full, Cachuma Operations Manager Bob Wignot said. Up until the month of February, less water was being used because of early rainfall in November and December.
Although this warm February didn’t have any severe repercussions, rain is expected later this week and much more is anticipated later in the year.
“The natural environment has evolved to deal with these kinds of droughts,” Michaelsen said. “At this point it looks like we will probably see the start of El Ni–o this summer, so there’s a better chance of getting a wet winter next year than a dry one.”