Dennis’ Local Almanac


The highs and lows of February

Here comes February, normally the wettest month of the year in Laguna with an average of around 3.3 inches of rain, but that total varies widely from year to year. Over the years, we’ve had three rainless Februarys in 1951, 1961 and 1984. On the other end of the scale, a whopping 15.02 inches drenched Laguna in 1998 and in 1962 we collected 13.68, and in 1980 we received 12.75 inches. The average hi-lo temp for February is 66-45 degrees. The warmest February day in Laguna was 88 in 1995 and the coldest February low was 31 in 1988. Normal ocean temps for February are around 57 or so. The warmest temp for February was 63 in 1997 and the coldest reading was 51 in 1988.

Here we are supposedly in a strong El Niño but it’s not really acting like one up to this point. We’re behind the normal rain output when we should be way ahead of the game. Looking at last season (2022-23), a three-month parade of very potent North Pacific storms hammered the entire state with record snowfall from Mt. Shasta to the north all the way down to Southern California.

Laguna was drenched with 28 inches, putting us in seventh place on the all-time list for wet seasons. What’s crazy about that is we were in the fourth year of an ongoing strong La Niña event when it’s supposed to be dry and that was unprecedented!

Going back many years, records indicated that every La Niña event, weak or strong, produced very little in the way of storminess during the winter. Many of those years showed half or less of the normal 13.95 inches while every El Niño, weak or strong, produced above normal rainfall – as much as double or more than normal. That pattern held true for decades until the last big El Niño of 2015-16 when only eight inches fell here in town. All the experts were calling for well above double totals for 2015-16. One weather source was even predicting as much as 35-40 inches when all was said and done.

Laguna’s two wettest seasons historically were 1883-84 with 40.06 inches and 1997-98 with 37.27 inches. Those are the kind of numbers all the pros were calling for in 2015-16, yet only around eight inches fell.

Looking back to the ongoing El Niño of 1937-38, every season saw well above normal rainfall totals. The 1937-38 campaign popped out more than 24 inches with half that amount falling in just four days, from February 2-5, 1938. The 1938-39 season saw nearly 20 inches while the 1939 season saw similar totals.

Then in September of 1939, the water got so warm in Southern California – with 80-degree temps – that a tropical system made it all the way to Southern California. The 1939-40 season would finish with more than 22 inches with seven of that falling during the tropical event from September 25, 1939. Things really ramped up during the 1940-41 season with 34.84 inches. Although a milder version of the El Niño occurred during the 1945-46 event, we still collected 16.15 inches of rain. Then in 1951-52, a moderately strong El Niño showed up dropping over 26 inches.

The next El Niño happened in 1957-58 and was a fairly strong one that produced more than 24 inches with super warm water in 1958 with temps in the mid 70s all summer – and one of the most consistent south swell summers on record. That’s the year I started keeping daily weather and surf records that I still document to this very day. More on that next week, folks.

Until then, ALOHA!


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