That Ridiculously Resilient Ridge keeping California dry

How unusual is the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge? (See also California's (and LA's) record dry spell: where did the storm track go?)

I spent some time with the Earth System Research Laboratory's data visualizer web portal to find out.

The global sea level pressure is about 1013 millibar (mb); we call fluctuations weather. As I explained previously in The Rain Gate Has Opened:

High pressure systems are associated with warm and sunny weather.  Low pressure systems are associated with 'disturbed', cloudy and stormy weather.

Our "normal" January 1 northern hemisphere sea level pressure looks like this. (This is an average of the thirty January firsts between 1981-2010 inclusive.) We enjoy relatively dry and wet weather due to a moderate offshore high-pressure region aka "the Pacific High." The magenta area to its northwest is "the Aleutian Low."


This is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. Do you see that yellow offshore blob? You could call it a banana, but meteorologists call it a (atmospheric) ridge. That high-pressure region is deflecting storms away from the entire west coast of North America.


Subtract the daily weather from climatology and you get the anomaly or deviance from normal. A 10 mb anomaly is a strong feature capable of bringing rain or sunshine depending on the sign of the deviance.


A 10-15 millibar anomaly is just the day to day fluctuation we call weather. But, over a longer time period, it spells trouble.

What's the persistence?

I made a plot for the climatology of December sea level pressure. In a typical December, a series of storms form in the Aleutian low and move towards the Pacific northwest, then push southward toward SoCal. We experience light and cool rains (or snowfall at higher elevations) from this type of system.


In 2013, there was a persistent ridge of over 12 mb above normal for the entire month of December! No wonder we have received only trace rainfall in December 2013.


Compare this with the anomaly in December 2010, when we received over 10" of rainfall. That's an anomaly of -10 mb instead of +12 mb. What a difference 22 mb makes.



That low pressure trough in the north Atlantic in December 2013 isn't a picnic for people in the UK.

Parts of southern England have seen double their usual December rainfall.

Visit NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory and make your own plots. If you get stuck, this tutorial shows you how to get started.

LA Observed contributor Grace Peng is a science generalist/data scientist/explainer living in the South Bay. She holds academic degrees in math (BA), chemistry (BS) and physics (PhD). She has worked in everything from the arts, finance, software, pure and applied science to government and likes to figure out how things work.

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