Weather Watch

Franklin’s curiosity inspires this weatherman

Ben Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

As a scientist, Franklin had an intense curiosity of the world around him. His “discovery” of electricity while flying a kite during a lightning storm would rank him as one of the world’s leading scientists. Not only did he discover electricity, but he invented a device called the lightning rod to channel lightning safely to ground and away from a building’s structure.

I still remember the story that one of my professors told while I attended a U.S. Navy oceanography class back in the early 1980s about Franklin’s curiosity.

Franklin often wondered why mail to America from England took weeks longer to arrive than mail to England from America. This led him to discover the role of the Gulf Stream and its effect on ocean crossings.

Each time Franklin traveled across the Atlantic, he noticed about a 20-degree rise in water temperature as his boat moved away from the eastern seaboard. Franklin became the first scientist to actually document the Gulf Stream.

After crossing the Gulf Stream on Navy vessels numerous times, I found it to be like a river, with its own water color, temperature, salinity and different types of marine life flowing through the Atlantic Ocean. Without the Gulf Stream, the British Isles would resemble Greenland.

According to a wonderful biography on Benjamin Franklin aired by PBS that I watched a few years ago, in October 1743, Franklin made plans to observe a lunar eclipse. A storm moved through Philadelphia that night and obscured his view of the moon. Later he learned that people in Boston were able to see the eclipse because the storm didn’t arrive there until several hours afterwards.

Once again, the flames of curiosity were stoked, and he continued to gather observations. He used a wind vane, which he built himself to compare the surface wind direction to what he could visually observe in the upper levels of the atmosphere by witnessing the movement of the clouds.

For example: Storms along the Central Coast often move in from the northwest despite the surface winds coming out of southeast. It’s believed he was the first person to understand that weather systems move in a different direction than surface winds might indicate.

He was probably the first person to hypothesize the existence of the jet stream, many decades before it was officially discovered during World War II by B-29 air crews.

Ben Franklin was one of our most influential founding fathers, but his intense curiosity for the world around him, including the weather patterns, was one of his many attributes that inspires me the most.

This week’s forecast

A 1,024 millibar surface high about 700 miles north-northwest of San Luis Obispo this morning will produce gentle to moderate (8 to 18 mph) northeasterly (offshore) winds, followed by moderate to fresh (13 to 24 mph) northwesterly (onshore) winds this afternoon.

This condition will give mostly clear weather with cold mornings and mild afternoons with abundant sunshine.

Today’s high temperatures will range between the high 60s to the low 70s throughout the Central Coast. Overnight lows will drop below freezing in most of the interior while the coastal valleys will reach into the mid 30s. Low temperatures along the coastline will be mostly in the low 40s.

Light to gentle (4 to 12 mph) northeasterly (offshore) winds are forecast on Monday under clear skies.

The winds will shift out of the south on Tuesday as a cold front moves southeastward down the California coast. This system will produce light rain for most of our area on Wednesday, followed by increasing northwesterly winds later that day along with much cooler temperatures.

A potentially stronger system should arrive late on Thursday and early Friday with additional rain.

Surf and sea report

This morning’s 3- to 5-foot (315-degree deep-water) swell (with an 11- to 14-second period will remain at this height and period through Tuesday.

Another intense Gulf of Alaska storm will produce a 9- to 11-foot northwesterly (295-degree deep-water) swell (with a 15- to 17-second period) on Wednesday and will remain at this height but for a gradually shorter period through Saturday.

Combined with Wednesday’s northwesterly swell, there will be increasing northwesterly seas on Wednesday afternoon.

John Lindsey is a media relations representative for Pacific Gas and Electric Company. He is also a local weather expert and has lived along the Central Coast for more than 22 years.