Low temperatures, moisture levels featured in November

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By Scot Johnson

The first week of November was unseasonably warm, with daily averages around 50 degrees in Los Alamos.
But a strong cold front from the west on Nov. 9 caused temperatures to plummet into winter.
Temperatures slowly climbed to the norm around Nov. 20, but quickly dropped again for Thanksgiving.
Overall, Los Alamos was a degree colder than normal and White Rock was two degrees colder. A few dustings of snow were all the precipitation to be seen in Los Alamos during November.
In some ways, November resembled spring, when low-pressure systems and cold fronts pass and bring strong winds, which also occurs when the jet stream is howling directly above.
We had our share of atmospheric dynamics during November, but when there is little moisture going with it, there is little rain and such storms are simply “wind-bags.”
Blame La Niña. The cold waters in the top few hundred meters of the eastern tropical Pacific cause atmospheric moisture to go north, as if the Pacific Northwest did not have overcast skies already.
The correlation between La Niña and our weather is far from perfect. Nonetheless, the phrase “La Niña” offers a quick and satisfactory response when someone asks why we haven’t had any real snow yet.
Then again, the real snow does not usually arrive until Christmas, so skiers – don’t lose hope.
The precipitation total for Los Alamos was a meager three hundredths of an inch where an inch is normal in November. White Rock got about the same. But there was plenty of wind.
Wind speeds averaged seven miles per hour in Los Alamos and White Rock, 30 percent higher than normal for November.
Maximum daily wind gusts were about 25 percent too high at 26 mph. Gusts exceeded 40 mph on four days in White Rock where one day is normal.
And winter temperatures have arrived. The average daily minimum temperature in Los Alamos was 25 degrees in November, 15 degrees colder than October and two degrees below normal.
The average daily maximum was 49 degrees, right on normal.
In White Rock, the average daily minimum was three degrees below normal at 21 and the maximum was normal at 52.
A low temperature record was set in White Rock on Nov. 26 when the mercury bottomed out at 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature reached in Los Alamos so far this year was on Nov. 30 at 8 degrees.
The coldest in Los Alamos during 2009, by the way, was 2 below zero (on Dec. 1).
The record low in Los Alamos stands at 18 below zero Fahrenheit, which was set on Jan. 13, 1963. The record low in White Rock is an incredible 29 degrees below zero, seen on both Jan. 6 and 7 in 1971.
Cold air settles into canyon bottoms and flows right into White Rock.    
We expect La Niña to remain fairly strong during winter. As a result, the forecast for New Mexico is warm and dry from now through spring of 2011.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scot Johnson is a meteorologist for the Waste and Environmental Services Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory.