To quote an old ‘40s song, “Good Night, Irene”. After trashing the Atlantic seaboard and New England, Irene has finally spent all her furious energy and has been put to rest in Southeastern Canada. Lucky for us, we don’t have to deal with hurricanes as only once in the past century has there been any kind of landfall here on the West Coast from tropical cyclones. On Sunday, Sept. 25, 1939 a tropical storm made landfall near San Pedro, unleashing up to eight inches of rain with winds of 70 mph and surf of 20-25 ft.
Laguna’s weather and surf has been affected by an occasional tropical depression since then but that’s about it. The main reason we pretty much get spared all that mayhem is surface ocean temps rarely exceed 75 degrees off Southern California and Baja’s west coast. Remember a tropical cyclone needs at least 80-degree water to keep fueled. There was a very strong El Nino event going on back in ’39 with ocean temps reaching a freakish 80 degrees off our coast so the door was open, whereas back east the normal ocean temps can reach 80 all the way as far north as latitude 40 degrees north thanks to the Gulf Stream. Three out of four years some place between Texas and Maine is going to take a direct hit from one of these spinners.
When you read this latest McWeather installment it’ll already be September and still very unproductive season in the south swell department so time to travel back to El Nino ’92 when we used to get them. The second half of July that year produced three healthy south southeast tropical swells from hurricanes Frank, Georgette, and Howard. The conditions were great too with lots of sunshine with air temps in the low 80s and ocean temps in the low 70s with generally glassy surface conditions. July ’92 was Laguna’s third warmest on record. August opened with a severe angle (165 degree) Southern Hemi swell that lasted four days with double overhead sets at exposed areas. After that there was a brief flat spell of just three or four days, then bingo! Here comes Javier with 6-8 ft. beauties for three days. Up to this point most of these storms were already mature hurricanes as they plowed to the northwest into our surf window, an ideal forward direction for flinging waves our way. More on ’92 next time and then after that we’ll cover the monster El Nino of ’97-98. 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.