Dennis’ Tidbits


November 10, 2017

Cut off low is known as a weatherman’s woe – hard to predict but fun if you like violent storms

There’s an old weather adage that reads, A cut off low is a weatherman’s woe. If weather forecasting isn’t tough enough, a cut off low is a freak in a class all by itself. Here in Southern California, cut off lows are a fairly rare event but when they do happen they can sometimes give forecasters fits and even worse, ulcers trying to figure out what their next move might be.

Most of the time lows ride the jet stream and usually travel hundreds of miles in a single day so most rain events here last around 12-24 hours and then they move on usually to the east. It can dump hard here on say a Monday but by Tuesday the rain bearing low has already moved its operations eastward to Arizona as skies begin to clear here and the atmosphere becomes stable once again, but a cut off low has a mind of its own. Having been cut off, hence the name, this low can hang around for sometimes a whole week as it meanders in all kinds of directions, especially if there are no outside influences within close proximity.

On this date in 1967, and then again two days later on Nov 12, and again on the Nov 15 and finally one more shot on Nov 17, the low was cut off before finally being forced eastward by a high pressure that was settling off the California Coast, prompting some gusty west winds to finally evict this little bugger. This pest was responsible for over eight and a half inches of rain, 8.67 to be exact, making it the second wettest November on record and in dramatic fashion with lots of lightning and thunder, quarter to half dollar size hail and heavy downpours.

It started as your standard low pressure and trailing cold front that was riding the eastbound storm track across the open ocean and approached landfall up in the Bay area on Nov 8. At that time most of the energy was forecast to concentrate on the northern half of the state with only a few showers reaching as far south as our area. Somehow, that low got separated from the west to east track, much like a train’s car suddenly derailing and spinning off in another direction. The low began to drift southward while gathering lots of cold unstable air. 

Early on the morning of Nov 10, Tidbits was suddenly awoken by the roar from a strong thunderbomb. Moments later another followed, and another, then another, and this went on almost uninterrupted throughout that morning with lots of heavy rain. Checked the gauge at noon…. 1.5 inches. Wow, I muttered to myself, that was interesting. By that afternoon it was clearing but from the east instead of the normal westerly direction. Even the wind was straight offshore instead of the normal westerlies once the front has passed through. I’m thinkin’ now that’s weird. 

Then the unthinkable…the skies turn ominous again late that afternoon and the whole deal returns for an encore with more hail, lightning and heavy showers well into that evening. Then it proceeds to clear from the north this time. The gauge collected an additional 1.9 inches giving us a total of 3.4 on the day. 

The next day was beautiful with no clouds but no wind. Then the next day the whole thing happened again except from the south this time. Then it got nice again for two days then BANG!, another round on Nov 15 with another three inches of rain in just eight hours with one inch hail that fell for 45 straight minutes that completely covered the ground like snow! Cumulonimbus towers with their anvil clouds lined the horizon.

It aint’ over yet, folks! One more dramatic event on Nov 17 with an additional 2.33 inches with more lightning and thunder and hail. Funny thing though about all this action… there was little or no wind during the whole episode. It would be my first introduction to a cut off low and unlike regular storms, where there’s a lot of surface wind before, during and after the event, a cut off low is also an upper level low so winds are vertical with strong updrafts and downdrafts with minimal horizontal air flow.

For me it was a most exciting week as I love violent weather as it hardly ever happens like that around here. ALOHA!

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