A Diablo Winds Primer

A Diablo Winds Primer

Diablo Winds are warm dry winds originating when strong high surface pressure builds over the northern Great Basin. The resulting flow from high pressure inland to lower pressure off the California coast is warmed and dried by compressional heating as the air sinks from the Great Basin, which is nominally between 4000 and 5000 feet, down to sea level. The primary impact area is over and downwind of the Coast Range and Diablo Range, from about Lake County in the north to San Benito County in the south. [This pattern also produces strong north winds down the Sacramento Valley and downslope northeast wind in the northern Sierra Nevada.] 

 

These areas of high pressure in a favorable position in the Great Basin are most common in the fall and winter months as the polar jet stream makes its seasonal progression southward.  Troughs and ridges moving along the jet stream begin affecting the northern portions of the Great Basin.   In certain configurations, the jet stream pattern encourages strong sinking motions and the development of surface high pressure areas in the northern Great Basin.  In that position, these highs can generate Diablo Winds and when they move or extend farther south Santa Ana winds can be the result.



The seasonal timing of Diablo, and Santa Ana, Winds is extremely important in regard to wildfire danger. One of the chief characteristics of California’s predominantly Mediterranean climate is its protracted dry period from about May through October. Consequently, these strong, warm and dry winds occur after months of very little, if any, precipitation and when fuels (i.e., grasses, shrubs and forests) are at their driest.

The exact trajectory and strength of Diablo Winds is due to the strength and location of the high in the Great Basin and likewise the strength and location of lower pressure to its southwest. During a Diablo Wind event this trajectory will often begin as a more northerly wind and shift to one from the northeast. This flow is significantly altered as it flows over and down first the Sierra Nevada and then the Coast Range, with the channeling of the wind over ridges and down canyons sometimes drastically increasing its velocity. The vertical temperature patterns associated with the Diablo Wind weather type often have the result of constraining the wind flow against the mountains, almost as if there were a “lid” just over the top of the coastal mountains.  Winds pushing from northeast to southwest are then squeezed through and augmented at the ridge line and on the lee, southwest, slopes in what is known to meteorologists as the “hydraulic jump” phenomenon.

One common “rule of thumb” diagnostic for Diablo Winds in general is to look at the pressure gradient (i.e., difference in pressure) between Winnemucca in northern Nevada and San Francisco; with the higher the difference meaning stronger wind speeds. This comes with the large caveat that the exact location of a Great Basin High and offshore low can dramatically alter the resultant wind speed and direction.

The current and previous 24 hours of Winnemucca (WMC) to San Francisco (SFO) pressure gradients can be found in the lower half of https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mtr/versprod.php?pil=OSO&sid=001, under SFO-WMC. The more negative the number, generally the stronger the offshore winds. 
Historically, here are several significant SFO-WMC surface pressure gradients days:
    Oct. 20, 1991:   -13.1 mb    Tunnel Fire
    Oct. 8, 2017:     -17.8 mb    North Bay Fires
    Oct. 24, 2019:   -16.3 mb    Kincade Fire

The etymology of the term “Diablo Winds” dates to shortly after the 1991 Tunnel Fire which devastated a large area of the Oakland and Berkeley hills. Myself and another forecaster (John Quadros), working at the National Weather Service office in Redwood City at the time, found that after the 1991 fire, calling offshore wind events in the Bay Area as “the northern California version of Santa Ana winds” was awkward at best, and meteorologically fuzzy at worst. We somehow fell upon the name Diablo Winds as a double entendre because they generally blow from the direction of Mt. Diablo in the far East Bay, and "diablo" translates from Spanish as “devil”; thus, devil winds.

Special thanks to Dr. John Monteverdi for his suggestions and editing.


Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather

 

 

Not All "Blobs" are Necessarily Equal

 

In recent week there have been numerous articles highlighting the strong Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies (SSTA) that have developed in the Gulf of Alaska and northeast Pacific Ocean; and equating them to the "Blob" that was a dominant feature in 2014 to 2016 period.  However, it is important not to look at these particular SSTA areas in isolation without looking at SSTA patterns in other parts of the eastern Pacific.  (This is a path that has sometimes been mistakenly taken in the past in regard to El Niño, where ENSO temperatures were taken out of context relative to other parts of the Pacific. One example was the Very Strong El Niño event in the winter of 2015-16, which is looked at in the following: https://ggweather.com/enso/compare/.)

While the current (September 2019) SSTA for the northeast Pacific does show significant positive SSTA warming in the northern half of the Gulf of Alaska, it is somewhat weaker and farther north that seen in 2014 and 2016. Also of note this year is the strong positive SSTA area west of California, a feature that was weaker and farther south in 2014 and non-existent in 2016.

The bottom line, is that the strength, location and interaction of these anomalous areas, as well as others in the Pacific, and even globally, all affect the circulation patterns of the West Coast differently; thus great caution should be used in drawing any simple (i.e., 1 + 1 = 2, or "blob" = California drought) conclusions as to their impact on the upcoming winter.

This post is also available at: https://ggweather.com/blob.htm

Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweater


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The Santa Clara Valley Rainshadow

 Often when it rains in the San Francisco Bay Area the lowest rain amounts are in San Jose and the surrounding environs of the Santa Clara Valley. To quantify this the normal (i.e., 30-year average from 1981 to 2010) rainfall over the region was analyzed. The data used was from PRISM (Parameter-elevation Relationships on Independent Slopes Model) at Oregon State University. Annual average rainfall was extracted for 600 gridpoints spaced at 0.05 degree (~0.55 miles) intervals over approximately 1300 square miles covering most of Santa Clara and the northern part of Santa Cruz Counties.

Rainshadows are the byproduct of moist air being lifted by the terrain (i.e., orographically) resulting in upward forcing on the windward slopes and thus enhanced precipitation amounts as the air cools and condenses. On the leeward side, the downward forcing causes the air to become drier with less rainfall resulting.

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In the SF Bay Area, the moist southwesterly flow coming onshore from the Pacific Ocean is often perpendicular to the Santa Cruz Mountains, which are oriented from northwest to southeast. After ascending the mountains and producing sometimes copious amounts of rain, the air dries out as it descends downward into the Santa Clara Valley. This produces about fours time more rain near Ben Lomond (~60 inches) than near San Jose Airport (~15 inches) which is only 22 miles away. (Click here or on the map for full-size image)


Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather

 

2018-2019 California Rainfall Season - Good but not Great

This Sunday, June 30th, marks the end of the 2018-2019 California rainfall season. Below are summaries of rainfall across the state. An important takeaway, despite "record-setting" headlines, is that for the vast majority of the state it was only a "good" above-normal year and not even in the top 20% of the wettest seasons. [Data also at https://ggweather.com/ca2018rain.htm and https://ggweather.com/water/]



San Francisco
POR begins 1849-1850
2018-19: 25.50, 109%
Rank: 40th of 170 seasons

San Jose
POR begins 1892-1893
2018-19: 16.63, 112%
Rank: 36th of 127 seasons

Eureka
POR begins 1886-1887
2018-19: 41.00, 102%
Rank: 50th of 133 seasons
 
Redding
POR begins 1892-1893
2018-19: 39.92, 115%
Rank: 38th of 127 seasons
 
Sacramento
POR begins 1940-1941
2018-19: 24.57, 133%
Rank: 12th of 70 seasons
 
Fresno
POR begins 1881-1882
2018-19: 11.44, 99%
Rank: 32nd of 138 seasons
 
Los Angeles
POR begins 1876-1887
2018-19: 18.82, 126%
Rank: 39th of 143 seasons
 
San Diego
POR begins 1850-1851
2018-19: 12.41, 120%
Rank: 36th of 169 seasons
 
8-Station Index
Northern Sierra Nevada
POR begins 1921-1922
2018-19: 68.44, 126%
Rank: 19th of 98 seasons
 
5-Station Index
Central Sierra Nevada
POR begins 1913-1914
2018-19: 49.79, 117%
Rank: 22nd of 106 seasons
 
6-Station Index
Southern Sierra Index
POR begins 1922-1923
2018-19: 37.06, 122%
Rank: 23rd of 97 seasons


Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather


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El Niño keep chugging along

  

For the past 5 months, the Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) has been stuck in the middle of the Weak El Niño category (i.e., +0.50 and +1.0) and the models are keeping it in that range through the end of the year!  Going back to 1950 (https://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm) there are only three back-to-back years with kind of similar patterns, but none close enough in my estimation to be reasonable analogs. They were 1968-69 to 1969-70, 1986-87 to 1987-88, and 2014-15 to 2015-16.  California precipitation patterns related to El Niño years can be found at https://www.ggweather.com/ca_enso/ca_elnino.html


 


Current SST Temperatures with Niño Region insets


Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather






 

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A Dry April, but Still Looking Good

 

After well above normal February and March rainfall, percentages in April across most of California dropped to well below normal. However, season-to-date numbers are still mostly above normal, and in many locations their seasonal (July 1 to June 30) normals have already been reached. See https://ggweather.com/seasonal_rain.htm and https://ggweather.com/water/.





Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather

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"Storm" - Still relevant after almost 80 years


“ STORM” by George R. Stewart, should be REQUIRED READING if you are a meteorologist, meteorology student, deal with or communicate California weather on a regular basis, or anyone whose day-to-day activities in California are impacted by the weather.  I have just finished rereading it for probably the 5th time and couldn’t put it down.

I first read “Storm” when I was an NWS meteorologist intern in 1975 and identified with one of the characters in the book, the Junior Meteorologist (JM) at the Weather Bureau in San Francisco. Over the years, I have given or loaned copies to over a dozen friends and colleagues and even though it was written in 1941, the meteorology is still sound and incredibly insightful. Likewise, the impact of a storm across California for 12 days in a winter where there had been early talk of a drought resonates strongly with this year’s headlines. Interwoven throughout the book are the interactions between the weather, the utilities, railroads, commerce, the airlines and people, which are just as relevant today as they were almost 80 years ago.



Please, do yourself a favor and track down a copy. It’s in many libraries, plus I often find copies squirreled away in used bookstores and there are numerous versions available on Amazon. (And when you finish “Storm”, read Stewart’s “Fire” which looks at another timely topic, the impact of a wildfire in the Sierra Nevada.)

Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather 

Comparison of the 2018-2019 Winter Outlooks to Reality?

 

How did the 2018-2019 Winter Outlooks that were issued last fall compare with reality? This year, in addition to looking at the CPC forecasts, several outlooks from the private sector were added for comparison. In all of the outlooks I see big-time errors; begging the question is there "skill" and "value" in these products? See http://ggweather.com/cpc/2019/


Jan Null, CCM
Certified Consulting Meteorologist
Golden Gate Weather Services
Phone: (408) 379-7500
Email: jnull@ggweather.com
Web: http://ggweather.com
Twitter: @ggweather

 

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