25 december 2013

Bay Area Christmas one of warmest ever, with no end in sight

By Mike Rosenberg, San Jose Mercury News 12/25/2013

For the Bay Area, it felt more like Christmas in July -- even Santa was thankful he had the top down on the sleigh.

Wednesday marked a historically warm, sunny day for what has been a balmy late December stretch that is expected to continue through the New Year, a reversal from the record cold snap that left the Bay Area shivering a couple weeks before. And with no rain in the forecast, the dry Christmas week sets up 2013 to almost certainly finish as the driest year on record dating back more than 1½ centuries.

The Bay Area's pollution police again said air quality was too poor and banned wood-burning fires in the region's 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves. But in most parts of the region, you'd quicker go outside to roast some hot dogs than do the whole chestnuts cliché.

It was the warmest Christmas ever in Oakland, where the thermometers reached 69 degrees, surpassing the old record of 67, set in 1972. Salinas, at 82 degrees, surged past the old high-mark of 79 in 1985.

San Jose's high of 67 missed its Christmas record -- from 1901 -- by just three degrees, downtown San Francisco's 65 was off by just two and San Francisco International Airport's 63 was five degrees short of its all-time holiday heat. It was 64 in Concord and a balmy 76 in Santa Cruz -- yet, still six degrees off the record there.

The National Weather Service forecast the higher-than-average temperatures -- highs in the 60s and overnight lows in the 40s -- would continue through the weekend, with clear skies as well.

"We're pretty much under a high pressure dome and nothing's really moving," forecaster Diana Henderson said Wednesday.

The lack of rain also extends an incredibly dry year, said Jan Null, a forecaster with Saratoga-based Golden Gate Weather Services.

This year, only 5.59 inches of rain have fallen in San Francisco, where records date back the farthest, to 1849, Null said. Remarkably, that's almost 3½ inches less than the previous dry record of 9 inches of rain in 1917. Similar dry records are on tap for San Jose and Oakland.

Since the weather service's rainy season began on July 1, only 1.56 inches of rain have fallen on San Jose, or 35 percent of a normal year. There have been 1.49 inches of rain at San Francisco International Airport, 2.08 inches in downtown San Francisco and 2.07 inches in Oakland, all between about 25 and 30 percent of normal.

It was a different story at Lake Tahoe, where overnight lows have been well below freezing, allowing resorts to make enough snow to keep skiers happy.

"It just looks like a classic winter postcard," said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman for the Northstar California Resort, which had 19 of its 20 chairlifts open Wednesday. "It is certainly winter at Tahoe."

In the Bay Area, the dry, warm conditions prompted the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to declare Thursday its fourth-straight "spare the air" day -- its 19th since the wood-burning season began on Nov. 1.

Earlier in the week, record high temperatures were set for Christmas Eve in San Rafael (66 degrees) and Mountain View (71) and tied records in Gilroy (72) and Salinas (75). On Monday, downtown Oakland set a new Dec. 23 record at 67 degrees.

"Air pollution continues to be trapped in the region causing unhealthy air for everyone," Jack Broadbent, the air district's CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.

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