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.

 

 

Windy Day in Paradise

Satellite imagery 24July2014

Satellite image of the storm’s intensity.

The weather in Baja is gorgeous about 95% of the time. There are more blue-sky days here on average than most places on Earth. We get our fair share of wind in the winter, which is why this is such a great wind and kite surfing locale, but those are nice constant winds of between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Summer winds whipped up by warm tropical disturbances are different – they are meaner, stronger, and can wreak serious havoc when they exceed the 60mph mark. They are typically preceded by skies heavy with grey clouds and sometimes thunder and lightning. Fortunately, thanks to modern weather predicting technologies, we usually know when they are coming and can prepare our homes by putting up window-protecting storm shutters, removing delicate window screens, and packing all the patio furniture and garden decorations away in garages and bodegas for safe keeping.

There is an energy of expectation and suspense that surrounds preparing for a storm. Perhaps that’s what I get off on, same as the adrenaline rush from surfing, that makes me embrace inclement weather. When I was a kid in Ontario, Canada and a big snowstorm blew up, I used to wrap myself in my father’s parka and walk through the streets of my small hometown buffeted by the wind. His coat reached mid-way down my calves and I had to wrap my arms around myself to pull it in and keep the frigid wind out. I think I felt more invincible in his coat than I would in my own snow gear, it was like he was there with me, his arms wrapped about me to fend off the weather. Icy snow flakes bit into the skin of my face and blew into the small space between my neck and the woolen scarf tightly cinched there. The sounds of the storm – the wind whipping along those otherwise quiet streets, through the trees so that their branches clicked and scratched out a dissonant beat, my boots crunching on the gathering snow drifts, the creak of icy power lines swaying overhead – accompanied me on my trek past small houses nestled into deep snow drifts. I relished the cold biting my nose, the sensation of ice crystals growing from the tips of my eyelashes, of cold air rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs. I’d walk the perimeter of our town in the dark of an early winter evening, the streetlights catching the flash of so many snowflakes flying about wildly in blasts of a northeast wind.

I approached rainy days in summer similarly – I would walk the streets of my town or the dirt round that defined the circumference of the lake where we had a cottage, getting soaked to the skin, shoes squishing, my socks falling from the added weight of the water they’d absorbed, gathering around my ankles. If it was windy, those rainy days almost made me feel as alive as a stormy winter night did. I embraced the power of the wind.

But…

Living at the tropical end of the Baja Peninsula could challenge the most ardent lover of wind not to forsake their love for calmer locales. The other day we had an unexpected chubasco (storm) come through in the early, soft lit hours of the morning. Aside from some thunder and lightning that woke me at 4:30am, the storm front hit with little warning at 6:40am. The sound of the wind wailing through window screens and the patter of large rain drops hitting the tiled patio outside my bedroom door roused me out of a sound, dream-filled sleep. In the time it took me to haul my still sleep-drenched body out of bed and wrap myself in a sarong, a howling gale had blown up out of nowhere. As I hurried down the stairs to gather patio furniture cushions, the wind grabbed my sarong, yanking it off with surprising force. I pulled it back around my chest in vain, the wind lashing out and ripping it off once again. I threw it on the dining table and ran naked about the house battening down the hatches.

The dogs, spooked by what were now 60 to 70 mile per hour winds, did their best to trip me up as I went from door to door to window, closing and latching them against the onslaught of wind and rain. The interior of the house looked like a wind tunnel experiment – papers and magazines were flying everywhere, window blinds flapped madly. Relief washed over me when Doobie, the senior member of the dog pack, padded up as quickly as her arthritic legs could carry her while I collected the cushions from the patio furniture. There was no time to get the patio furniture inside. I knew I had to pull the three sliders leading to the ocean-side patio closed NOW. But the largest one refused to latch – the force of the wind bent it so the two sides could not make contact. I left it and ran to close the windows upstairs.

When I returned to the living room, the wind had picked up another notch and ungodly sounds were coming from the unlatched door. It groaned and creaked in protest as I watched it bend and bow in response to the force of the wind. I pictured it exploding in a cloud of dagger-like shards and, in response, retreated to the garage, herding the dogs along with me. From the garage I heard a plaintiff meowing, a distress call from the bushes just outside the leeward side of the house. Responding to my encouragement Mochi the cat shot across the driveway and into the garage, managing somehow to escape getting soaked despite the huge rain drops that now pummeled the driveway. Even Mochi seemed to understand that the living room was a high risk zone and remained in the garage with the rest of us.

The wind slammed and shook the garage doors in a cacophony of metal on metal and the rain began to pour from the gutters in a torrent. Ungodly sounds were emanating from the house – moaning and groaning and howling her protests against the force of the wind.

I’m not sure how long we waited, but the wind soon weakened enough that I felt safe returning to the living room to try to close the slider once again. With a great deal of effort and several tries I managed to latch it, relief washing over me. A large puddle of water had gathered inside the three sliding glass doors – the rain forced through the tiny space between the doors and their tracks. As I mopped up the water, I felt the sting of wind-blown sand hitting my leg and discovered that the wind had also unseated one of the sliders and opened a quarter-inch space between the frame and the door. Amazing! Those doors are heavy!

Fortunately, the storm only lasted a couple of hours, but she managed to wreak some serious havoc all along the coast nevertheless. Here three screens were bent and torn off windows, several others tweaked out of shape, the screens stretched and pulled from their frames. The cover for the barbecue is MIA. It was weighed down with three heavy clay floor tiles, but the wind must have got under it, threw the tiles to one side and launched that heavy cover like it was a plastic grocery bag. It’s out there somewhere in the desert. My neighbors had palapas torn apart or knocked over, roof tiles ripped off, gates and unlatched doors pulled from their hinges. Coconuts and fronds turned to ballistics, felled from palms in a frightening volley. It’s amazing no one was hurt.

In the cleanup afterwards, we found sand everywhere. Sand blew into every crack and crevice, collected in large volumes all over the patios and as high as the second story. It blew so hard, it blasted the paint right off the metal gate to the beach.

In my twelve years living here at the southern tip of Baja, I’ve never before experienced a storm of this magnitude come up so quickly. So while I do love inclement weather, I prefer the kind that comes up slowly, with warning, and time to prepare. And the feelings I have towards hurricanes lie somewhere other than in the “love” spectrum. We’re in the thick of hurricane season now and with sea and air temperatures higher than we’ve experienced in several years, it bodes to be an active one with storms continuing to form well into October. I beseech Mother Nature, keep those Category 4 hurricanes well out to sea this year.