Dennis’ Local Almanac

By DENNIS McTIGHE

Spring starts today!

On St. Patrick’s Day, the sun came up at 6:59 a.m. and went down at 7:01 p.m. which meant we now have more than 12 hours of possible sun time all the way up to around the 25th of September. Spring begins today, Tuesday, March 19.

Here on the last day of winter (March 18), Orange County beaches were treated to a cluster of pretty strong thunderstorms that kind of snuck up on us from the north and northeast instead of the south and west where most of our weather arrives in that typical direction. The atmospheric dramatics had a little bit of everything that included frequent lightning and thunder, gusty winds up to 40 mph in some areas, nickel-size hail that covered the ground in white and two funnel cloud sightings. The wild weather was part of that stubborn upper-level cutoff low that’s been loitering over southern Nevada for nearly a week now. It brings to mind the old adage: A cutoff low is a weatherman’s low!

Now here’s a switch! The warmest weather on the entire Pacific West Coast can be found up in the Pacific Northwest where it’s approaching 80 degrees in places like Portland, Eugene and Salem, Ore., while temps down here are at seasonal levels with highs generally in the upper 60s. Last week’s showers brought the 2023-24 season to more than 20 inches, the second consecutive season we’ve seen that. Normal rainfall for a whole season here in town is 13.95 inches. We’ll probably add to that total by the end of this week, but until then we’ll be dry for the most part with temps at slightly above seasonal normals.

A cutoff low has been spinning nearly stationary near Las Vegas for the past several days dropping copious amounts of rain and snow in areas where they don’t get that much precipitation in March. Places like Las Vegas and Phoenix, Tucson, the Four Corners area and Denver, Colo., have seen as much rain and snow over the past few days than they’ve gotten all season dating back to last October.

Denver is notorious for getting its heaviest snowstorm in the spring and this one was a doozy with more than five feet of the white stuff in parts of Colorado. April and even May see heavy snows there. I was talking to a lifelong Colorado resident the other day and he told me it even snowed on July 4th one year. I think it happened in 1988 or ‘89 where Aspen picked up nearly six inches! On Sunday, that same cutoff low was still camped out near Vegas, having barely moved even 50 miles in any direction as there are no significant steering mechanisms to push that stubborn low off to the east or whatever.

Meanwhile, numerous severe weather outbreaks are right on time, ushering the spring season over the southern plains, the South and even up into places as far north as the Ohio Valley with deadly EF-3 tornadoes, softball-sized hail, and two inches per hour of rain on an already saturated ground. Incidentally, before I forget, the NOAA has just released a statement that this winter was the warmest on record for the entire lower 48 states. Anyhow, it’s hard to even fathom a hailstone growing as large as a softball or even bigger. There was one stone way back in the 1930s that was as big as a volleyball, and it weighed almost 2.5 pounds in an open field in Nebraska. The top of that super cell thundercloud reached nearly 60,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. For that to happen, the updrafts within that cloud were traveling at a speed of nearly 125 mph!

There was absolutely no cap in the upper reaches of that cloud. A cap is a layer of warm air way up there that stabilizes the surrounding air thus weakening the storm’s intensity so it’s all systems go. Once that enormous stone had no atmospheric barriers it got huge. Finally, the surrounding bitterly cold air could not support the weight of that monster, it finally fell to Earth at well over 120 mph. I have witnessed firsthand, hailstones as big as baseball to softball size on April 1, 1967 at Amarillo Air Force Base up there in the Texas Panhandle. Scary stuff!

Until next week, ALOHA!


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