Wonders of Baja Weather

LA Bay Rainbow 8Mar2016

Rainbow over Bahia de Los Angeles thanks to crazy storm system. Photo credit: Octavio Pinto

It’s 5pm. I pause from writing this, reach up and cup the tip of my nose between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. It’s cold and my fingers warm it slightly before I return to the task before me.

I know I’ve been away a long time. I had some personal things going on, health and whatnot, and haven’t been writing much in general as a result and when I do write I’ve focused on getting my book written because I want to, no I need to get it done. It’s been too long coming. But that’s another story.

What’s got me writing today is the weather. It’s funny that I should write about the weather after being absent from this blog for so long. It’s a source of mild amusement that “How’s your weather?” is the question I can always count on my mother to ask during our increasingly brief telephone exchanges.

Well Mom, it’s been another cold day today. Yeah, not cold by eastern Canada standards, but darn cold for here in Baja. Cold and windy. Yesterday we had what I consider to be the strangest weather I’ve witnessed in my fourteen years living in Baja. At the end of a winter season during which temperatures remained well above normal, a system blasted the peninsula with a cold air that made temperatures plummet twenty degrees and brought with it all manner of precipitation. The only thing missing was the locusts.

I rose just before dawn and took a look outside. The waves were uncharacteristically large and feathered by strong offshore winds. I went outside to investigate more closely and greeted my neighbor as he stood watering some new fan palm trees near the wall separating our properties.

He asked me in a somewhat bewildered tone, “Is this what it’s like in summer? Are the waves often like this? What’s up with this wind?”

I looked around and wondered if the pending solar eclipse had anything to do with the strange weather. I’ve also been seriously “under the weather” of late thanks to one of Baja’s many “side-benefits” – a parasitic infection – that’s made surfing a challenge due to desperately low energy levels. It pained me to look at the waves and not be able to partake. To lessen the sting, I turned my back to sea and returned to the house to get some work done. (Unfortunately, under the influence of these parasites I’ve been living in a near perpetual brain fog. My productivity has suffered almost as much as my intestinal tract.)

By 8:30 the winds switched to the North, then East, then South and East again. I looked out the west-facing kitchen window to see ominous black clouds looming as they expanded to reach high into the sky. I didn’t quite believe my eyes. The sky had been clear blue only an hour earlier. I went outside to investigate and discovered the wine had turned downright chilly. It was right then that big COLD raindrops began to fall. I double-timed it up to the guest house to close the windows. On my return to the main house the rain drops fell quicker, inducing me to run or get wet enough to require a wardrobe change. The wind seemed to be coming from several directions all at the same time. It swirled and switched back and forth, came in wild gusts up to twenty-odd miles an hour. Once I had the windows in the main house closed, I returned to the garage where one of the doors is wide open during the day and watched as the pavers on the driveway got soaked and water began to drip from the downspouts. Yeah, it wasn’t a heavy rain by tropical storm standards, but it was rain in March in the Baja desert. Sit up and take notice kinda weather.

Back inside I noticed my feet were cold. What the heck? I normally have to wear Uggs here in the winter, but this year’s winter has been so warm I’ve only put them on a few times at night.

I scratched my head and did a few searches on Google about the current weather. Nada. Later I would learn that the winds turned offshore again around 1PM. Surf in San Jose was unreal.

“Like Hawaii” one friend said, “and barreling. But I had to put on my full wetsuit! I froze! I’m in Uggs, longjohns, and my ski jacket now.”

“Damn! I missed it again,” I lamented. “Frickin’ parasites!”

I called my friend Mario, the Huichol shaman, and he reported he’d had to run home early from the gallery where he sells indigenous art to deal with an emergency. The wind, gusting up to 45 miles an hour in Cabo San Lucas, had toppled the large Tamarind tree in his yard and landed on his bedroom, destroying the roof and two walls.

“Was anyone hurt?” I asked, picturing the kids and his sister-in-law Rosa scrambling to avoid the falling tree.

“No. Gracias a Dios.”

The solar eclipse occurred at 4:30 our time. We were not in the window to see it, but it was total and visible further west from Hawaii to Indonesia. I continued to wonder if it wasn’t the cause of the weird weather.

At sunset I walked the dogs on the beach like I do most nights and froze. I didn’t consider I might need a scarf and a beanie. And the sweater I had on was too thin. The sand stung, icy cold on my feet. I looked warily at the low hanging black and grey clouds recognizing them as typical of lightning producers. I’m not a big fan of lightning, having had it pass through my body when I became a ground for an Airstream trailer. I picked up my pace.

By the end of the walk large cold rain drops began to fall to land squarely on my head and shoulders, threatening to make me colder still. Back in the house I had to blast my feet with hot water to dispel the cold before I wrapped them in heavy wool socks and Uggs. Later, as I lay in bed I could see from behind my eyelids the intermittent flashing of lightning to the east.

Today I woke and didn’t want to get out of bed it was so cold in my bedroom. I snuggled in and felt a small lump next to me. The cat, ensconced under the duvet, did his best to ignore me as I pulled the covers up under my chin and looked out at a sea made tumultuous by the still raging wind.

Later, when the sun was up and the bedroom felt a little less frigid, I rose and searched for information on yesterday’s weather. On the Baja Facebook page I found photos of the desert floor just north of here in the village of El Centenario covered in hail. On the Weather Underground website it showed that in the wee hours of the morning, the mercury at the San Jose del Cabo airport had dropped to 48 degrees Farenheit (9 deg Celcius), ten degrees colder than the previous night’s low.

The greater surprise was when I found these photos on the Facebook group Talk Baja taken in El Centenario just North of here.

Hail2 El Cent 8Mar2016

Photos courtesy of Jay Curtis

Hail El Centenario 8Mar2016

Hail in Baja!

The only thing missing is the locusts.

Crazy Weather Update: I just saw on Facebook that it SNOWED in Guadalajara yesterday! According to @SkyAlertStorm the last time they saw snow there was in 1997.

 

 

Is the Kid Really Dead?

Icy surfing in IcelandIt’s the day before Summer Solstice and it’s only 79 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’m considering whether I need to put a sweater on because there’s a brisk breeze blowing in off the sea that is chilling me as it hits my bare shoulders. A week ago, I had to put a lightweight hooded sweater on over my t-shirt in the middle of the day and resorted to donning full length yoga pants because I was so cold. The mercury didn’t get much higher than 77 degrees that day. Normally at this time of year I’d be sweating in shorts and a tank top. Conclusion? This is possibly the coldest June in the history of Baja’s East Cape. However, before you accuse me of being melodramatic, and in the absence of any definitive long term historical proof, let me say instead that it is definitely the coldest June I’ve personally experienced in this region.

Admittedly, this is only my eleventh June in Baja. Eleven is neither a big number, nor is it small in the context of time passage. But it is more than a handful and a decade plus one. Never before in the month of June have I needed to put a sweater on in the middle of the day. Remove my t-shirt? Definitely. Change my sports bra because it’s soaking with sweat? You bet. Take a shower and lie down under a fan on high in the middle of the day because it’s 105 degrees outside? Several times. But put on more clothes at what is the hottest time of day? Never!

Air temperatures have been uncharacteristically low because they reflect sea water temperatures, which have been near frigid. Since the middle of May, they’ve fluctuated wildly between extremes. From 84 degrees Fahrenheit one day to 62 degrees the very next – that’s a whopping 22 degree drop.

The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit a surfer needs to wear. Wetsuit thicknesses are measured in millimeters (mm) and water temperatures of 62 degrees mean wearing a full-length wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness or going out for super short sessions in which your muscles tend to seize up. I don’t own a 2mm full suit.  My shorty suit wasn’t up to the job and on more than one occasion I got out of the water with blue lips and legs that were numb from the knees down. By the end of several sessions, I had to blow into my cupped hands between sets in an attempt to warm my frigid digit. It took all my willpower to put my hands back in the biting cold water and keep my arms paddling for the next wave. Back on land again it took almost an hour of sitting in the direct sun to warm up again. While I know that there are many a surfer who experiences this regularly and to an even greater extent, bear in mind that we’re talking about surfing in the normally tepid, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez.

I have furthermore never seen the sea turn green. Two weeks ago, I thought I’d been teleported and was surfing in South Central California when overnight the water changed from its characteristic turquoise and azure blues to a brilliant emerald green.  Apparently the colder water resulted from an upwelling event that brought nutrients from deep down in the sea to the surface causing a serious algal bloom. Then there were the jelly fish, or, as I like to call them, the Helly fish, feeding on all that phytoplankton. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ve never seen so many large gelatinous jelly fish in the water here. The water was amuck with them and more than once I managed to squeeze their fire-wielding tentacles between my leg and my surfboard to produce the kind of stinging you only wish upon your worst enemies. The resulting welts were impressive and the itching lasted for days.

It’s not just June weather that’s been strange. May was uncharacteristically cool and foggy too. From the middle of May onwards we’ve had the equivalent of what Californians call June Gloom in the East Cape – fog, wind, and shockingly cold water.

So what gives?

At first I thought it was because it’s a La Niña year. La Niña is a period during which sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal by 3-5 degrees Celsius (6-9 deg F). In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of these types of conditions. The name La Niña is Spanish for “the girl,” analogous to El Niño meaning “the boy,” the term used for periods when sea surface temperatures are abnormally high. The only trouble is that according to meteorologists the period of La Niña weather conditions that began last year ended in March. In other words, La Niña is dead.

So I’m still scratching my head. If this weather can’t be ascribed to La Niña (abnormally low sea surface temperatures) then what is causing these cool sea breezes the temperature of which seem so abnormally low?