Mountaintops are special places, and not only for their spectacular views. For weather junkies, they also offer the chance to measure and record extreme phenomena like the strongest winds and most intense lightning.
On top of a mountain, I’ve always felt like I’m sitting atop the wing of an aircraft. The winds passing over the peak accelerate and lower the pressure along the ridgeline. This is called the “Bernoulli Principle” and is what keeps airplanes aloft.
Another factor that helps to create higher winds is less friction with the ground. As you move away from the Earth’s surface, wind speeds tend to increase. In fact, at a height of only 33 feet, the winds often move twice as fast as winds at lower altitudes.
When you fly a kite, the first 10 to 20 feet of elevation is usually the most difficult to reach but as the kite reaches higher the wind becomes stronger, and the kite tugs harder at your string.
Some of the strongest winds recorded on Earth have occurred on mountaintops. In 1934, winds above Mount Washington, a 6,288-foot peak in New Hampshire, reached a sustained speed of 186 mph with a peak gust of 231 mph.
In 1996, Tropical Cyclone Olivia generated a wind gust of 253 mph as it crossed over Barrow Island off the northwest coast of Australia. The gust was measured at the standard measuring height of 33 feet above a small hill with an elevation of 210 feet.
When Chris Arndt of SLOweather.com asked if I would like to help install a new transmitter for his weather station on a mountain in Los Padres National Forest, I readily agreed. Chris’s weather station sits on top of the Condor Lookout facility, located at an elevation of 3,190 feet on aptly named Hi Mountain about 15 miles east of San Luis Obispo.
Condor Lookout is a refurbished U.S. Forest Service field research facility and remote tracking station for the endangered California condor. It’s located in the center of the condor’s range and offers a vast view of the surrounding mountains and valleys of San Luis Obispo County.
At the lookout two Saturdays ago, you could actually see the snow-capped Sierras to the east and the blue Pacific to the west. If you would like to visit this amazing place, please go to http://condorlookout.org/ for information.
So far, the strongest winds recorded at Condor Lookout occurred Jan. 18, 2010, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The southerly winds reached 88 mph, well above hurricane-force levels.
Real-time weather data from Condor Lookout can be viewed at http://wx.sloweather.com/.
Sunday’s weather report
A series of low-pressure systems over the last few days have produced gale force southerly winds, unseasonably cold temperatures and significant rain. Wind gust at Diablo Canyon reached 60 mph yesterday afternoon.
Clearing skies along with wet ground and chilly temperatures and possible patchy ground fog is on tap this morning.
Mostly dry and slightly warmer conditions will develop Monday before another cold Gulf of Alaska weather system will drop southward and move parallel along the California coastline.
This system should spread rain and moderate to fresh (13- and 24-mph) southerly winds from north to south along the immediate coastal locations Tuesday.
Gentle to moderate (8- to 18-mph) northeasterly (offshore) winds are forecast Wednesday. This offshore flow will give mostly sunny skies and warmer temperatures.
Strong to gale force northwesterly winds will develop Thursday and will continue through Friday, producing cooler temperatures and partly cloudy skies.
The longer-range models are advertising rain next Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday’s surf report
This morning’s 8- to 10-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) swell (with an 11- to 14-second period) will continue at this height and period through tonight.
This northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) swell will lower to 4 to 6 feet Monday, further decreasing to 3 to 5 feet Tuesday through Wednesday morning. However, increasing southerly winds will generate 3- to 4-foot southerly (190-degree shallow-water) seas (with a 4- to 6-second period) Tuesday.
An 8- to 10-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 15-second period) is forecast along our coastline Thursday, increasing to 9 to 11 feet (with an 11- to 13-second period) Friday through Saturday.
Seawater temperatures will range between 53 and 55 degrees through Wednesday, decreasing Thursday through Friday.
If you see downed power lines, leave the area immediately and call 911 and then PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.
John Lindsey is a media relations representative for PG&E. He is also a local weather expert and has lived along the Central Coast for nearly 25 years. To subscribe to his daily weather forecast or ask him a question, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.