The western United States will experience a highly unusual event — record-breaking and extremely early-season heat through the weekend.
“This is definitely earlier than we typically see,” Sierra Littlefield, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, told CNN. “We’ve already set records and will again today until the heat builds and moves west of us.”
A strong high pressure system is building across the western third of the country and will remain throughout the weekend. High pressure causes the air to sink. As it sinks, the air compresses. And as air compresses, it heats up, which will lead to many states experiencing high temperatures some 10 to 20 degrees above average.
Nearly 100 daily record high temperatures are forecast through Saturday across California, the Great Basin and the Southwest, the Weather Prediction Center tweeted Thursday.
It’s way too early for this
“We’re forecasting a high of 89 on Friday and 91 on Saturday, which would break a daily record for both days,” said Matt Woods, a meteorologist with the NWS in Las Vegas. “And if we reach 92 we will break the all-time March high.”
The March record is 92 degrees, set in 2004.
Even though Las Vegas is known for its heat, Woods is concerned about those not acclimated for the high temperatures.
The heat records in the West started to fall earlier this week.
Tuesday not only saw record heat. What also stood out was how long the previous records had stood.
San Jose, California, hit 85 degrees, breaking the record of 83 set in 1915. Santa Rosa, California, topped out at 86, tying the record from 1926.
This heat the West has already seen is just the beginning. All-time March records could fall as well for a few states.
“We’re not happy about the high heat”
Places with higher terrain and the Mountain West usually experience some of their heaviest snowfall during March, but this weekend will be a seasonal shock.
“March is one of our peak months, considered high season and traditionally some of our greatest snowfalls occur here in Alta, Utah,” said Clara Eddy with Alta Lodge in the Alta ski area. “We’re not happy about the high heat but do not believe it’ll keeps folks from coming. It’ll be a bit icy but northern slopes should fare better.”
For Salt Lake City, the temperature shock could come in the form of the earliest 80 degree day ever reached. Friday’s highs are already expected to be 10 degrees warmer than normal. As the high pressure area builds this weekend, highs will be up to 20 degrees warmer for Saturday and Sunday.
According to Monica Traphagan, meteorologist with the NWS in Salt Lake City, it seems with some certainty they will be in record-breaking territory.
“The records for Salt Lake City this weekend are in the mid to upper 70s, and with our forecast calling for 80 Friday and 81 Saturday it seems we will break our records,” she said.
But that’s not the only record to note.
“We may be breaking records by 3 to 5 degrees, and in addition to that our record for the earliest 80 degree day is March 31st, 2012, and we have a good 50% to 60% chance of breaking that,” she said.
More heat, more concerns for the ongoing drought
The western US cannot catch a break from the persistent drought that has been growing year by year. After decent rains and snowfall for November and December, Mother Nature turned off the spigot, thus widening the gap between the haves and have-nots as the drought continues to worsen.
This weekend’s weather pattern, with its clear skies and early season heat, will only exasperate the situation by heating the ground and siphoning away more of its precious water moisture content.
“Throughout much of the U.S., where antecedent dryness coincided with below-normal precipitation, drought either continued or worsened in intensity,” said the latest report from the US Drought Monitor. “The only areas where this was not true was across parts of the Upper Midwest, which experienced some removal of long-term drought due to improvements from melting snow.”
Years ago, this would be the time of year to see not only healthy snowfalls in the mountains but hints of spring as snow melt and runoff create the sounds of cascading waterfalls and the gushing of mountain rivers traveling downstream to replenish the lakes and reservoirs.
This spring and ensuing summer may be quite different.
“Groundwater, soil moisture and snow water equivalent are all below-normal and nearby reservoir levels are, on average, 50 percent of their historical averages as we begin transitioning into a drier time of year,” the US Drought Monitor said.
Eventually, the strong high pressure system will edge eastward and the heat will subside.
“As the ridge progresses east Sunday ahead of low pressure approaching the West Coast, temperatures will start to come down a little,” the Las Vegas NWS office wrote. “There will be a substantial cooling trend and chances for rain around much of the area Monday and Tuesday. Once the low passes by, dry weather should return with another warming trend.”
So peak heat will only linger during the weekend, and a renewed chance of rains moves in for many by Monday.
“Although many here may be looking forward to the spring temperatures, these dry and warm conditions don’t give us the warm fuzzies,” said Traphagen, of the NWS in Salt Lake City.