Dry December Update

“Rain, rain, rain, rain,
Why’d you cause me so much pain?”
—”The Rains Came,” Sir Douglas Quintet

Southern California got a little spritz of rain over the weekend—nearly a fifth of an inch yesterday in the desert town of Blythe. Here, it’s dry, and the California-Nevada River Forecast Center sees only a small chance that rain will fall over the northern part of the state in the next week (and that will be far north of the Bay Area). Our local National Weather Service forecast office, in Monterey, reads the models the same way: “Dry and mild weather will continue through at least the next 7 days … with little variation in the upper level weather pattern. A series of storm systems will move towards the region over the next week … but pass to the north and east of the area. ” The longer-range outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is for drier and warmer than median weather.

Here’s the local NWS table on precipitation so far this year. And below that, today’s theme song

Station July 1-Dec. 18, 2011 % of Normal July 1-Dec. 18, 2010 % of Normal July 1-Dec. 18 Normal July 1-June 30 Normal
SFO Int’l Airport 2.87 50 5.76 101 5.69 20.11
Oakland Airport 3.06 52 6.66 113 5.91 17.42
Mountain View Airport 1.73 45 3.24 85 3.83 13.35
San Jose Airport 1.53 39 3.05 77 3.95 15.08
Santa Rosa Airport 4.45 42 13.19 123 10.70 31.91
Salinas Airport 3.31 103 3.45 107 3.21 12.91
San Francisco Downtown 3.35 47 7.88 111 7.08 22.28

Coming Attractions: Autumn Rain


There it is: our first storm of what we’d like to call our rainy season (the live version of the image is here). The National Weather Service has been advertising this as a “rather weak” system that won’t drop much rain here. Maybe so, but the radar image–which doesn’t always depict what’s out there in the atmosphere–seems to indicate some moderate to heavy precipitation off the coast. We’ll see in the next few hours.

Road Blog: Chicago

Today, the road trip included zero time on the road. My sister and I did walk a few blocks up the street and back, though. And Eamon and Sakura arrived after their detour from Council Bluffs to Lamoni, Iowa, and Independence, Missouri. Their drive today brought them from Independence, Harry S Truman's hometown, through 100-degree temperatures in Missouri and severe thunderstorms near Bloomington, Illinois–family home of Adlai Stevenson, who failed to succeed Truman.

Thunderstorms passed through the Chicago area, too. It's an unusual enough occurrence for me, living in the mostly thunder-free Bay Area, that I went out into Ann and Dan's backyard and recorded some of the storm as it passed. The storm and recording were less than Wagnerian in its dramatic dimension, but was plenty atmospheric. Here's an MP3 snippet:


Back on the other end of this trip, the endless rainy season of 2010-11 continues in the Bay Area and Northern California. To define "endless rainy season," we refer to the National Weather Service record report from earlier today, which runs down a few locations that saw their rainiest June 4th ever. An earlier forecast discussion raised the possibility that some locations might exceed their monthly records for the entire month of June today (a surprising possibility, but not an amazing one: we don't get a lot of rain on average in June; the June record for San Francisco, recorded in 1884, is about two and a half inches. One earlier report ran down rainfall totals over the region through late Saturday morning. Noteworthy: the 2-inch-plus totals in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the 3-inch plus amounts in the Santa Lucia Range in Monterey County.

It's more than I want to get into in detail at this late hour, but: water. One impression driving across the northern Rockies and Plains is how wet and green everything looks (but no, we didn't see any honest-to-goodness flooding in Montana or South Dakota) In California, you think of water supply when you see all the rain (and in the mountains, snow) we've been getting as the wet season continues. The state's daily report on its largest reservoirs shows storage is more than 110 percent of average for this date and the biggest lakes are close to capacity. In the mountains, the snowpack is still at 97 percent of its April 1 average–April 1 being the date when the snowpack is at its maximum. We're two months past that now, and the snowpack is at 343 percent of normal for the beginning of June (in a regional breakdown, the snowpack for the Northern Sierra and far northern mountains is at 559 percent of normal for this date (see California Department of Water Resources/California Data Exchange Center: Snow Water Equivalents).


longbeach090310.jpg (Above: Looking south down the Los Angeles River, center, and across the junction of Interstate 405, the San Diego Freeway (running right and left) and Interstate 710, the Long Beach Freeway (which runs down the river’s western bank). Long Beach Harbor is in the distance. Taken just after takeoff from Long Beach Airport, September 3, 2010. Google map link.)

I took a long bike ride once from near Boulder, at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, to east central Kansas, then turned around and came most of the way back. The route was given not in a map but in a sort of schematic of the roads on the route. That was a simple matter because a good 80 percent of the route seemed to be on a single highway, U.S. 36. There was a point marked on the diagram about 80 miles or so southeast of Boulder–the point where the Rockies vanished as you headed east across the Plains and reappeared on the westbound route.

That mark on the map made an impression: I loved the idea of a point on the landscape where such a dramatic change is made visible. Most long-distance travel, especially between the Rockies and the Appalachians, I think, is a tale of subtle changes, watching landscapes shift slowly as you gain or lose elevation or encounter wetter or dryer climatic zones. It’s much different from traveling north or south, east or west across California, where the next amazing transformation seems always to be around the next bend.

And then there’s flying across country–by which I mean commercial airline flight–which compresses experience and landforms into an extended narrative of geographic changes. I’ve often fantasized about coming up with some manual or device that would serve as a guide to what the airline passenger sees as he or she soars overhead. At first I envisioned it as a fold-out book in which each page would show landmarks, landforms and highways all the way along the air route, and now I imagine that GPS and map software can hand you a continuous unfolding picture with as much detail as you desire.

The strip of landscape that rolls out beneath the main air routes between the Bay Area and Chicago has become familiar, but it’s still exciting to see from the air: the cityscape, the bay, the bridges, the islands, the towns, the freeways, the hills and mountains that slide beneath you as you head out into the Central Valley. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with its knot of waterways, the farm geometry of the valley floor, the big valley cities. Then the foothills and big reservoirs and forests as the hills turn into mountains and the checkerboard of raw-looking clearcuts. Then granite and almost before you know it you’ve vaulted the crest of the Sierra Nevada, maybe within view of Yosemite or Lake Tahoe–so much of what you see depends on what side of the fuselage you gaze from.

Then Nevada: basin and range and uncountable debris fans at the foot of mountains and dried-up courses of old floods. You might be able to place yourself by the appearance of a road–Interstate 80, maybe, or the thin ribbon of U.S. 50, or one of the north-south routes. Then maybe you get a look across one of the mountain ranges at the Great Salt Desert, signaling Utah. Maybe you see that lake, or the Wasatch Mountains rearing up from the middle of the city. The Rockies may appear, or coral-painted canyonlands, or the course of the Green River or the Colorado.

By this time you might be an hour and a half into the flight, maybe more. If you’re connecting at Denver, you might sweep down to the plains across Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re on a non-stop, you might or might not ever see a square inch of Colorado, but you’ll see some part of the mountain chain. When that’s over, you’ll see the dry, sparsely roaded High Plains. You might meet up with Interstate 80 again near the course of the North Platte River, a rough guide to the old pioneer routes. In western Nebraska the country looks hilly and potholed. Anywhere in these dry plains you might see broad circles of wheat or alfalfa irrigated straight out of the Ogalalla Aquifer. Slowly, the roads increase and the green becomes more intense. You might see Omaha; even if you don’t, you’ll see the Missouri River below, running across a floodplain marked by tall bluffs.

After that, you’re almost home. Iowa, farmed and fertile looking and looking anything but flat, a rolling landscape broken by hundreds of small and big streams. The Mississippi is ahead, impossibly wide and complex looking as it braids among heavily wooded islands. And then it’s southwest Wisconsin or northwest Illinois, with county roads knocked askew from the preferred township grid as they straggle across thousands of square miles of glacial debris dumped in the last ice age. And then towns: Madison in the distance, Janesville, Beloit, Rockford. The Rock River. The Fox River, the suburbs, the city, the airport. Touchdown.

(Flying out here Friday, my routine was interrupted. I flew down to Long Beach, then from there to Chicago. Terra incognita, mostly, especially sitting over the plane’s port wing. But I did get glimpses. I puzzled over our route after leaving Long Beach; we took off to the northwest, then turned and flew south out over the ocean before turning to head east, and I just don’t know the landscape down there. The first good reference point I spotted was crossing the Colorado River. And after that, just a lot of guesswork. (The actual flight path appears to be here.)

Bay Area August: Departures from Normal

Saturday and Sunday were actually sunny here, for the most part. Off to the west Sunday night, Venus was visible well after dark–the first time I’ve seen that in weeks. Not that this signals a break in our marathon summer fogfest. The forecast for the next week calls for more of what we’ve been having for weeks along the coast: cool, mostly gray days that might give way to an hour or two of honest sunshine. Highs in the low to mid 60s. (This is not a complaint. Our air-conditioning bills here: zero.)

The map below is something that my friend Pete pointed me to a couple weeks ago. It’s from the Western Regional Climate Center and is a quick take on how much our daily high temperatures have departed from normal. There’s a tiny wedge just north of San Francisco–Point Reyes–where daily maximums have been more than 10 degrees lower than average. Here in Berkeley, highs have been 6 to 8 degrees below normal, and that’s pretty much the story for most of the rest of region. temperatures.gif


We’ve been having a string of clear evenings in the Bay Area, perfect for watching the nightly fly-by of the International Space Station and the shuttle Atlantis. When the shuttle and the station are docked, they appear as a single, bright star moving from (roughly) west to east. The Atlantis undocked early this morning and rapidly moved away from the station. This evening one of the ships appeared in the northwest, then the other–the space station trailed by the shuttle, I think. From San Francisco, they seemed to move nearly straight overhead, then rapidly vanished into the Earth’s shadow when they were still high above the horizon.

It always surprises me a little not to see others out staring at these objects as they pass over, or that passers-by don’t ask what I’m looking at. A big-city rule, I guess: avoid the harmless-looking guy staring into the sky just in case he’s a lunatic. One time, a co-worker happened upon me watching the space station go over a nearby park. “What happened?” she asked. “Did a bird shit on you?” I told her about the space station and pointed at it. She glanced toward the sky, gave me a look that said she didn’t quite believe anything like that was up there at the moment, and moved on.

Tonight in Berkeley, meantime: Kate knew the twin apparitions of space station and shuttle would become visible at 6:22. She called several neighbors to alert them. While I watched from the lower western edge of Potrero Hill, she had nearly a dozen people out in the street here in our neighborhood for the three-minute show. That’s just one of the things I love about this block: that people will come out to see a night-time sky display–lunar eclipses, comets, meteor showers, whatever’s on tap–and just hang out for a few minutes.

There’s another double-viewing Thanksgiving night. Check your local listings on NASA’s Satellite Sightings Information page.

Bay Area Storm Numbers

The storm came, and now it has gone, mostly. It was advertised as the marriage of a Gulf of Alaska storm and some typhoon remnants. Watching the rain pour down here, and seeing the totals mount on the National Weather Service statistics pages, I believe the typhoon part. It was the heaviest mid-October rain for most locations since 1962, when the World Series–Giants and Yankees, at the still-new Candlestick Park–was washed out by rain.

Some of the more amazing 24-hour totals, midnight Monday to midnight Tuesday: Mount Umunhum in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.07 inches. Ben Lomond, Santa Cruz Mountains: 10.58 inches. Mining Ridge, a remote recording station at an elevation of 4760 feet in the Santa Lucia range above Big Sur: 20 inches even. The totals of 5-plus inches at lowland locales in the central Bay Area seem semi-arid by comparison–even though they represent anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of what those locations get in an average rain year.

It’s not easy to get apples/apples numbers just casually browsing the Weather Service sites. But the service did publish a record report for 24-hour rainfall (the standard here is from 5 p.m. to 5 p.m., I think).

Location New Record Old Record
Kentfield 6.14 4.20, set in 1957
Oakland Museum 3.86 0.37, set in 1988
Richmond 3.38 2.47, set in 1962
San Francisco Airport 2.64 2.62, set in 1962
San Francisco Downtown 2.49* 1.80, set in 1962
Santa Rosa 2.74 (tied) 2.74, set in 1962
King City 1.65 0.30, set in 2007
Monterey Climate Station 2.66* 1.14, set in 1962
Salinas 1.05 0.39, set in 1992
Santa Cruz 3.16* 2.49, set in 1957

*New unofficial record for 24-hour rainfall in October.

For several days before yesterday’s storm, the Weather Service office in Monterey was highlighting some of the highest October rainfall totals for stations in its forecast area. Here they are:

Location One-Day Record Two-Day Record
Santa Rosa 4.67 (10/12/1962) 7.41 (10/12-13/1962)
Napa 4.66 (10/13/1962) 9.32 (10/12-13/1962)
San Francisco Downtown 2.29 (10/15/1969) 3.72 (10/12-13/1962)
San Francisco Airport 2.62 (10/13/1962) 4.56 (10/12-13/1962)
Oakland Airport 4.53 (10/13/1962) 5.85 (10/12-13/1962)
Livermore 2.17 (10/13/1962) 3.45 (10/13-14/1962)
San Jose 3.22 (10/13/1962) 4.56 (10/12-13/1962)
Santa Cruz 3.15 (10/20/1899) 3.35 (10/20-21/1899)
Monterey 1.80 (10/26/1907) 2.09 (10/26-27/1907)
Salinas 1.50 (10/30/1982) 1.50 (10/30-31/1982)
King City 1.88 (10/29/1996) 2.18 (10/29-30/1996)

Source: National Weather Service, Monterey, California

Highly Sensitive

As I got on the BART car, she was sitting on one of the side-facing bench seats, reading a book. Her bike was blocking a second seat. I asked if she’d mind moving the bicycle so I could sit down. She gave me a blank stare and moved the bike about four inches so I could squeeze past. Another passenger eyed the seat next to me, which the bike still blocked. He didn’t say anything, just gave her a look. She answered with the blank stare and moved the bike a few inches so he could sit. When the train left the station, the bike slid back into my seatmate’s legs. Bike-woman didn’t notice–she was alternately reading her book and fumbling with a pack of Kleenex and blowing her nose and stowing the used snot-wipes in a little basket on the bike. Then she noticed her bike was gouging into her fellow passenger’s shins. She pulled it back toward her so that now it was partially blocking the door.

When she went back to her book, I saw the title: “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.”

(Oh, and it turns out the highly sensitive thing is a pop-psych franchise. Here’s a self-test if you’re wondering if you have what it takes to be a potential bicycle-toting BART blockhead: Are you highly highly sensitive?)

Berkeley Frost

Oh, sure: You, wherever you are to the north or east of the San Francisco Bay shoreline, you have your cold snaps, your big old snowstorms, and your drifts. All that’s enough to make you forget how the cold season started some frosty morning a few months ago. Here on the Bay, frost happens every so often in the dead of winter, on some clear morning after a storm has passed. This morning was one of those frosty mornings for us to come out of our uninsulated bungalows and think that we’re in some kind of wintry solidarity with folks on the Columbia, near the East River, or on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.

If I Were to Get Peevish, This Is What It Would Look Like

In the newsroom, I don’t
believe in pet peeves. Way too many things nettle me to name just one as a
favorite. And face it: most pet peeves, including the ones I don't have, arise from some point of arbitrary wisdom elevated to a principle that's really just an excuse to vent about how no one does things the right way anymore.

But if I ever let myself indulge in the pet peeve thing, one of mine would be the use
of murder rate when one means murder toll. This is of particular concern now when cities are toting up the body count for the past year and feeding it to reporters who repeat the numbers (without thinking much about what they may or may not mean; most of thinking isn't a part of the exercise). The murder toll is the simple count
of murders in a particular place in a particular year. The rate is
typically an assessment of the number of homicides per capita (typically
expressed as the number of killings per 100,000 population). That way you can
compare places like Richmond, East Palo Alto and Oakland with
Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.


It’s OK but contrived
to use rate as a way of extrapolating or equating the number of murders in one
period of time to another period – “Pleasantville police say there have been
100 murders in the first six months of 2008; at that rate, the city will break
its yearly record of 190, set in 2007.” Personally, I’d stay away from this use
of rate because in the Bay Area, anyway, the ebb and flow of murder stats do
not seem to follow any rhyme or reason summed up by such simple arithmetic. Better
to apply this sense of rate in retrospect: “Police say 130 people were murdered
in Pleasantville in 2008. That’s one of the highest tolls on record, but police
note that the rate of killings dropped markedly after the bloody first six
months of the year, when 100 homicides were reported.”

Like I said: If I were to have a pet peeve, I could get some mileage out of this one.