Curtain closes on an unusually chilly February for Southern Californians, but cold may persist
Just before dawn Wednesday at the Greater Community Missionary Church in Pacoima, most of those gathered in the parking lot were bundled up in at least two jackets as they waited for shuttles to whisk them from the emergency shelter back to the streets.
All month, the 138-bed shelter has been at capacity, and part of the reason is simple: It has been cold, very cold — at least for Southern California. In fact, across the region, February ranked among the coldest ever for the month in recent memory.
With so many seeking refuge from the cold and the street, the shelter “is a safe place for them, so it breaks my heart when I have to turn down six of seven people a night because we’re out of space,” volunteer shuttle driver Tina Jackson said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘where do these people go otherwise?’”
While it affected those without reliable shelter and others in the need the most, the exceptionally cold February was bracing for many Southern Californians unaccustomed to such a relentless chill.
According to National Weather Service figures, residents of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties in February shivered through temperatures that were from 4 to 9 degrees cooler than average.
In Orange, for example, high temperatures for the month, as of Wednesday, had averaged just 61 degrees. That made it the second-coldest mean value ever reported for February by the NWS .
The weather station at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana logged the second coldest February on record based on average maxed temperatures, and the 10 coldest based on average temperatures for the month. At Long Beach Airport, the average temperature in February was 52.7 degrees, which was 4.8 degrees lower than normal for the month. In Riverside, the average temperature for February was 49.2 degrees, 6.4 degrees lower than normal.
A series of storms also added to the noteworthy month.
A winter storm going into the last weekend of the month causedprecipitation to freeze at elevations as low as 800 feet. That weather system shut down a portion of the Ortega Highway at the border of Orange and Riverside counties as drivers spun out on frost dusted pavement.
Elsewhere, incredulous motorists stopped their cars to capture footage of landscapes unexpectedly coated in white powder. The rare snowfall surprised residents in cities like Glendale and Northridge in Los Angeles County.
That storm also prompted school cancellations in the San Bernardino Mountains and led to icy road conditions that forced the closure of all highways leading into Big Bear Lake last week. There, the temperature dropped to minus-3 degrees on Feb. 23. It hasn’t been that cold in the Big Bear area since Jan. 3, 1993, when the local NWS station recorded a temperature of minus-7 degrees.
The mercury dipped to 12 degrees in Idyllwild on Feb. 23, breaking a record set in 1959 for the lowest temperature ever measured on that date in the city. Readings at NWS stations in Riverside and Palm Springs were both about 7 degrees colder than normal during this month, averaging 49 and 53 degrees in February, respectively.
In downtown Los Angeles, the mean high temperature from the Feb. 1 through Feb. 24 was 60.6 degrees. That marked the coldest February recorded in that part of the city since 1962, and is 8 degrees below the usual average high for the month.
Many Southern Californians donned rarely used winter coats retrieved from the deepest corners of their closets to fend the uncharacteristic chill. Others cranked up the heat in their homes and bundled up while trying to convince jaded relatives and friends living in the Midwest and East Coast, where temperatures obviously dipped much lower, that it really had been that much colder than normal.
“The pattern was so cold because the systems were originating in the Arctic, so cold arctic air was brought into our area,” said NWS meteorologist Casey Oswant.
With the cold weather causing harsh conditions for homeless people, the month was especially challenging to organizations offering temporary housing to those trying to survive out on the street.
“It has become unhealthy to sleep outside, but we have had to leave people behind every night,” said Ken Craft, chief executive of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, which runs the Pacoima church shelter. “This winter caught us by surprise. I doubt anyone anticipated the amount of rain and the cold we’ve experienced so far.”
In Orange County, pounding rainstorms from Feb. 14-16 prompted officials to temporarily extend operating hours for seasonal shelters at the Santa Ana and Fullerton Armories.
Meanwhile, on farms in Ventura County, where a good portion of Southern California’s produce is grown, heavy rains delayed planting, harvesting and related activities, according to Farm Bureau of Ventura County CEO John Krist. He said it hasn’t gotten cold enough this winter to freeze and damage crops, but lower than average temperatures have stalled plant growth and maturation.
“This means products won’t be flowing out of the fields and orchards on their planned schedules, which may cause mismatches between supply and demand later this year,” he said.
Krist added that farmers have been staying up late on some nights to monitor temperatures and ensure that their equipment doesn’t break, but overall “this has actually been a milder winter than many.”
Southern California should experience slight warming at the end of February and the beginning of March, according to Oswant. However, forecasts predict that colder than normal temperatures will return starting March 5 and may persist through the second half of next month.