El Nino vs. La Nina
We here in Laguna have every reason to gloat and smirk at a goodly portion of the remainder of the lower 48. Clear sunny skies, light offshore breezes with an air temp. of 75 degrees at lunch hour. California and Arizona are the only places getting off the hook from winter’s wrath early this week. You’ll notice that Florida is not included among the warm sanctuaries because they too are in the icebox. That’s why we live here, plain and simple. To have to endure life in these other places would be like doin’ time!
When it comes to surf, El Nino is definitely our friend and La Nina is definitely the enemy. The latest La Nina event, a strong one too, appeared right on the heels of last winter’s El Nino episode. The unwelcome La Nina is why last summer was so lousy and this fall has been devoid of any significant swell activity. Hawaii too is having a lackluster season as well. It’s a classic case of the system of checks and balances at work. We kind of knew that goin’ in, after last winter’s epic run of surf in Hawaii, California, and Baja. Having a repeat performance this time around was just asking too much.
Why was last winter so epic? When this massive El Nino convection moves with the warmer than normal water into the Central Pacific, it causes the jet streams in the two hemispheres to intensify and move toward the equator. These jets tend to destabilize from time to time and break up. Not completely, but they develop wiggles and swirls and eddies. These are called storms. But instead of being generated way up north like this season, during last winter’s El Nino, the storms moved southward with the jet stream.
The results are larger and more frequent systems that generate swells custom built and ideally positioned to greatly impact places like Hawaii’s North shores, Central and Southern California, and Baja. During La Nina winters the storms are less frequent, form way to the north out of Southern California’s swell window, and plunges from north to south from the Gulf of Alaska at too severe of an angle (315- 340 degrees) to push into our SW and West facing nooks and crannies like it did so magically last winter. So the swells totally bypass Central and Southern California. So it’s not our turn this winter. Might as well get a job. Did I really just say that? See you 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.