The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Los Angeles failed to hit 70 degrees in February for the first time in recorded history

Snow-capped mountains are seen behind the Los Angeles's downtown skyline at dusk on Feb. 21. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

For the first time on record, Los Angeles went an entire February without once hitting 70 degrees. And the City of Angels registered its coldest month since 1962, averaging about five degrees colder than normal.

The city of 4 million is known for its mild winters and picture-perfect paradise weather. The average February high is 65, but this February was the exception, coming in about 3.5 degrees below normal and never making it above their Feb. 12 high of 69. In fact, only three days last month were as warm as a typical February day in Los Angeles.

“There has never been a February since records began in … 1877, during which the temperature has failed to reach the 70 degree mark,” wrote the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., in a public information statement. This year marks the “first February in 141 Februaries without a high temperature of at least 70 degrees.” An average February hits 70 degrees half a dozen times.

“This has been one of the colder, wetter winters I’ve experienced,” wrote Jeremy Herbst, a meteorologist who has lived in Los Angeles for more than 15 years. “We’ve had frost on a number of mornings and more rainy/cloudy days than usual.”

Much of the cloud cover over the city that blotted out the sun came on the fringes of atmospheric rivers — large plumes of tropical Pacific moisture that targeted the mid California coast. The corridor of storminess has dropped copious amounts of rain and snow in Northern California, an obscene 300 inches of powder coming down through in Squaw Valley. Wednesday’s record 10.78 inches of rain in Venado, meanwhile, has pushed the rural Sonoma County community to nearly 46 inches for the month. The active weather pattern helped drape blankets of cloudiness over parts of Southern California.

A nonstop stormy February has produced precipitation records all over the nation

In addition to the dreariness, Los Angeles has seen its fair share of rainfall this month. A record 2.2 inches on Valentine’s Day helped edge it above Seattle for the month. At Los Angeles International Airport, it was the fifth-wettest February on record. Fourteen days recorded rainfall — more than twice the average number.

“One of the nice bonuses is when you’re driving around, there is so much greenery in what is otherwise brown hills/mountains” Herbst wrote. “It looks like another place altogether with the grass growing everywhere all the while knowing that in a few months time, it’s likely to brown/die. The other big plus — at least for me and my wife and presumably other homeowners with yards — is our water bill is substantially lower."

But it is not just rain that has been making headlines. Snow showers were even reported at several Los Angeles County beaches on Feb. 21. The flakes flew at Malibu Pier and Leo Carrillo Beach, the flurries approaching sea level in Point Dume.

So “if you think it has been unusually cold this month in Southwestern California” wrote the National Weather Service, “you are correct.”

Flakes in Hollywood: Rare snow and wintry precipitation scatter around Los Angeles

The damp and chilly conditions aren’t going anywhere. “It looks like we’ll be stuck in this pattern for a bit,” said Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Los Angeles. “There are no major changes on the horizon. We have one storm coming in overnight tonight [Friday], and another for Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s a pretty active time for us.”

Many may point to the abnormal chill looming in Los Angeles as evidence contradicting climate change. That is simply not true, however. It all comes down to natural variability that can still exist in a warming world.

Mean February temperatures — including data from this February — have over time risen 5.5 degree since bookkeeping began in 1878. This is a symptom of a warming world. The fact that this has been the coolest February since 1962 does not negate the 2.3 degrees the city has heated up on average since then. Studying climate change is a bit like investing in retirement savings; it is not about the day-to-day or year-to-year fluctuations but, rather, trends over a decade over a generation. And that upward trend is certainly there.

Winters in California, meanwhile, are looking stormier in the years ahead. A recent study lead by Duane Waliser of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena points to potent atmospheric rivers becoming increasingly common.

Waliser warns “the global frequency of atmospheric river conditions — like heavy rain and strong winds — will actually increase by about 50 percent.”