When sleeping in the outback during freezing weather, indigenous Australians often relied upon the body heat of wild dogs to get them through the night. The coldest conditions were referred to as a "three dog night." Using the dingo metric, California has just emerged from a one Chihuahua winter -- its hottest in history.
The state broke its warm winter record by a whopping eight-tenths of a degree, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is nothing to yap at.
Leave it to weather-data crunchers to find a way of calculating a record high that produces what seems like a middling number. The historic new high is 48.0 degrees, which is a mean temperature for months that weren't very. The previous record of 47.2 degrees was set during December, January and February of 1980-81, which was Morning in America but apparently felt like Mid-Afternoon in Milpitas.
That's not exactly the kind of historic heat-up you'd need to fry an egg on the sidewalks of San Jose, but it was statistically significant.
"When we talk about differences across a state by seasons, we're usually talking about tenths of a degree," said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. "So the fact that California beat its record by almost one entire degree is a pretty large jump."
When you couch it in terms with which the public is more familiar -- average high temperatures by month -- the warmth of the winter just ending comes into even sharper relief. Even with an early cold snap last December, the average high in San Jose this winter was 60.3 degrees, compared to 58.5 degrees normally. January averaged highs of 65.9 degrees, versus 58.1 normally; February was 62.6 this year, compared to a 30-year average of 61.9.
It was California's third-driest winter on record -- meteorologists ignore equinoxes and solstices, dividing seasons into neat three-month blocks -- which also had an impact on the warm winter sun.
"When the atmosphere is drier it tends to be warmer during the day," said Crouch. "It takes more energy to warm moist air than it does to warm dry air." Basically, dry days warm up more quickly than wet ones.
With the passage of the Ides of March on Saturday, the likelihood of Northern California catching up on the rainfall needed to avoid severe drought conditions this summer continued to fade.
On Sunday, when the thermometer registered a high of 80 in San Jose, people flocked to parks, trails and outdoor markets. Gilroy, at 86 degrees, set a record high for the day.
"I think it's sweating," Nicolas Ojeda, 8, said about the weather, as he tossed a baseball with his dad at Backesto Park, north of downtown San Jose. "That means it's good!"
Dad Willie Ojeda agreed: "It's awesome," although his wife Priscilla reminded both that we should worry about the drought.
Nearby, Zaria Owens, 9, was tossing a football with dad Raymond Owens. And that's what's good about balmy weather: "I get to play with my dad," Zaria said, "and we get to play outside at school."
They probably can look forward to a lot more park-play days.
"We're getting to the time of year when the systems are typically weaker, so the hopes for a Miracle March are pretty well gone," said meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services. "To put this in historic context, in April 1880, San Francisco got 10 inches of rain in the month of April. So it's possible to have big Aprils, but they are few and far between. We're still in 'anything's possible' mode, but the chances of us making significant inroads against normal for the rest of the year are now fairly low."
Null said a storm was possible by next weekend, but its bark may be worse than its bite.
Staff Writer Sharon Noguchi contributed to this report. Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004. Follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.
Winter: 60.3 degrees vs. 58.5 degrees normally
January: 65.9 degrees, vs. 58.1 normally
February: 62.6, vs. 30-year average of 61.9