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McWeather or Not

Energetic Atmosphere!

Dennis McTighe

Two thunderstorms in the same week rumbled across our region with some pretty intense stuff. That hasn’t happened around here since 1998 at least here in Laguna when we had such storms on three separate days during the week of August 30th to September 6th. Laguna averages eight thunderstorm days a year. So far this year we’ve had seven. The most thunderstorm days we’ve had in any one year was 21 back in 1983, thanks in part to the major El Nino event that year.

I was talking with veteran lifeguard Randy Gregory last Sunday down at St, Ann’s Beach. We were reviewing the big New Zealand swell we had the week before last. Thursday was the peak day of that swell and perhaps the heaviest set of that event poured through around 11:30 that morning.It was a twelve wave set. At least half the waves were estimated at twelve foot and the others were pushing at least ten foot. Every wave was one massive wall from Brooks Street to Sleepy Hollow and beyond. The huge set proceeded to clear every surfer out of the water except for one guy who was paddling for his life way outside more than halfway to the kelp beds. The ensuing riptide was enormous, stretching from Honeybuns at Oak Street all the way to North Reef at St. Ann’s and out a hundred yards! Randy has been a Laguna lifeguard since 1978 and has seen a lot of swells and riptides in that 33 year span but he told me he’s never seen a riptide so expansive and violent. Amazing stuff, eh?

The heavy El Nino of 1997-98 was first discovered in early March of 1997, when surface ocean temps near the Equator shot up to seven degrees above normal. That’s huge. You knew something was up when surface ocean temps in Laguna rose all the way to 70 degrees as early as April 5th, and 75 degrees just ten days later! All indications were showing this latest El Nino to equal or surpass the 1982-83 event, thus potentially affecting most of the globe. That of course meant the upcoming Eastern Pacific hurricane season would most certainly be a busy one indeed, and looking even further ahead, the following winter on the Pacific West Coast would be exceptionally wet and wild. Those bold predictions would pan out and then some. More on that next week. ALOHA!

Dennis McTighe served as a meteorologist at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii from 1969 to 1972, and was an NOAA forecaster  and earned a degree in Earth Sciences from UC San Diego and has been keeping daily weather records since 1958.

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