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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 83  |  October 15, 2021

Dennis’ Tidbits


A lifetime love of thunderstorms 

Dennis 5If you use the Main Beach Lifeguard Headquarters as a vantage point, you’ll notice that the sun is now setting behind Catalina Island – providing it’s clear enough to see the island and the surface visibility is good. With each passing day, the sun will appear to inch ever so slowly to the south and will do so until the Winter Solstice on or about December 21. That’s when the sun reaches its southernmost point. After that date, it will begin its return journey to the north, when it leaves the northernmost tip of Catalina and sets in the ocean around March 8, 2022. 

From about December 15th through the 25th or 26th, the sun will set over the water just to left of the island. The shortest day of the year at our latitude will see only about nine hours and 54 minutes of possible sunshine when the sun is at its lowest point in the southern sky – casting long shadows even at noon. At that point, the farther north you go, the shorter the amount of possible sun time you’ll see.

My favorite kind of weather as you probably know by now is severe thunderstorm activity and always has been since I was 5 years old. On my fifth birthday on August 3, 1952, I witnessed my very first intense thunderstorm in the Grand Canyon in Arizona at the North Rim. Thunderstorms in this part of the world are quite common from early July through mid-September as a rule, all part of their summer monsoon season. I remember that very day like it was yesterday, I kid you not! That intense storm set my path for life at the tender age of 5. My fascination with this kind of weather has not diminished one bit, 69 years later!

In the last issue of Stu News I covered two out of four types of thunderstorms, the single cell, and the multi-cell cluster events. Now we’ll cover the other two, the multi-cell line storm and the supercell. 

The multi-cell line storm, or squall line is a long line of storms with a leading edge of strong wind gusts – just ahead of the storm – caused by very strong downdrafts of very cold air from high up in the cumulonimbus cloud. 

Moving forward, the wind gusts of cold air force unstable warm air into the updraft at the storm front’s edge with heavy rain and large hail immediately following. A large area behind this produces lighter rain. 

Squall lines produce golf ball-sized hail or larger, heavy rains, intense lightning, tornadoes, and most notably, weak to strong downbursts. Squall line storms are quite rare around here, but there was one significant exception and that occurred in the morning of March 1, 1983 – a product of the mega El Niño event of 1982-83. That one squall line produced intense lightning and thunder, golf ball-size hail that completely covered the ground, 3.5 inches of rain in just four hours and 40 mph winds from the SE kicking up 12 foot storm waves and a very low barometric pressure of 29.15 inches of mercury or 991 millibars. What a day that was! 

Finally, the most severe type of thunderstorm is the supercell, and most frequently occurs east of the Continental Divide. The supercell is a highly organized storm consisting of one main updraft which can reach 150-175 mph winds. This rotating updraft is called a mesocyclone and works to produce extremely large hail, major downbursts and fierce tornadoes. 

I witnessed my very first supercell storm on April 1, 1967 in Amarillo, TX while attending Weather School at Amarillo Air Force Base way up there in the Texas Panhandle, part of Tornado Alley. I’ll cover that most dramatic day in detail in the Friday edition of Stu News Laguna

Until then, have a great week, ALOHA!


Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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