Our warm temperatures and dry weather have been the result of a high amplitude ridge, pushed up over the West Coast by a very strong and extended Pacific jet stream. Big upper level ridges such as this are consistent with La Nina, and have been a recurring theme this Fall and Winter. Much of our rainfall and cold weather this season has occurred when an extended Pacific jet collapses or contracts -- as is occurring now -- and the blocking ridge shifts westward, opening the door to cold storms plunging down the backside of the ridge from the north.
This time there is a wildcard in the mix. One of the reasons the Pacific jet has been extended is the active phase of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) has recently propagated from west to east, across the Pacific. The system that is forecast to affect Southern California Wednesday night into Thursday looks like it might be enhanced by an inflow of moisture from an area of tropical convection that may be associated with the MJO.
How much might it rain? A BUFKIT analysis of 12z NAM data generates 1.3 inches of rain at Van Nuys for the period Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon. The HPC 2 Day forecast is not so bullish, indicating about 0.50 inch to 0.75 inch over the area. We'll see!
Medium range models suggest the weather in the West could remain unsettled into next week and beyond. Of particular interest is this morning's 12z ECMWF forecast for mid-week next week, which projects the retrogression of the West Coast ridge to 150-160°W, with a cold, wet pattern similar to what we saw in December. That would be quite a change!
Update 01/22/09. It seems the NAM and GFS models can't get a handle on the system currently affecting our area. The 12z NAM generates 1.6 inches (!) of rain at Van Nuys and the 12z GFS 1.2 inches at LAX from this morning into Saturday afternoon. On the other hand the 09z SREF Ensembles puts the probability of more than 0.25 inch of rain for the 24 hr. period ending mid-morning Friday at about 50%, and then only about 10-30% for the following 24 hr. period. Upslope enhancement may produce higher totals on south facing foothill and mountain slopes. The GFS continues to advertise the possibility of a significant rain event Monday afternoon into Tuesday or Wednesday, but given recent model performance, we'll wait and see!
Update 01/21/09. The 12z models now extend the rainy period for the first system into Saturday. The 12z NAM generates about 1.0 inch of rain at Van Nuys, beginning Thursday morning and ending Saturday midday. The 12z GFS also produces about 1.0 inch, beginning Wednesday evening and ending Saturday afternoon. The GFS adds another 0.9 inch from Sunday morning to Monday night. Somewhat higher amounts would be expected in some foothill and mountain locations. As always, we'll see!
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