Weather Watch

Experiences give aviators respect for weather

Aviation, from the Latin word “avis,” which means bird, is the art or science of flying airplanes. Anyone who has spent any length of time flying will sooner or later have his or her own stories of harrowing experiences with weather.

I was a naval air crewman flying in a U.S. Navy H-2 Seasprite helicopter from Norfolk, Va., to Mayport, Fla., in the summer of 1985.

During the trip, we flew into a band of thunderstorms that stretched for hundreds of miles from west to east. After a long deployment over the North Atlantic, we really wanted to get home.

We used the helicopter’s radar to try to fly through these immense thunderstorms, but we were caught in severe up-and-down drafts between the storm cells.

The turbulence was so furious that very small metal fragments in the bottom of the helicopter’s gearboxes became suspended in the gear oil, causing numerous gearbox caution lights to illuminate in the cockpit.

Those fragments had probably accumulated over years of flying.

We made an emergency landing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and waited for the weather to clear while we cleaned the various gearbox detectors.

Another problem for aviators is icing. This condition occurs when precipitation from warmer air aloft falls through a temperature inversion layer into freezing air underneath. This super-cooled water freezes on contact.

Normally, you don’t think of California experiencing freezing rain, but I saw it happen while flying northward in a U.S. Navy H-3 Sea King helicopter from San Diego to Alameda in the winter of 1995.

While over the Salinas Valley near Pinnacles National Monument, we hit severe icing about 4,000 feet as we flew through a cold front.

As we looked outside, we could see the ice form on the windshield and fuselage. We were concerned about ice accumulation on the main rotor blades along with ice chunks sucked into the engine intakes.

We couldn’t see the ground very well, so we decided to climb to get above it. Around 6,500 feet, we broke through the inversion layer and found rain. We headed directly to Salinas Airport and landed.

While with a Navy P-3 Orion squadron out of Point Mugu near Ventura about seven years ago, we flew to Williams Gateway Airport near Phoenix to pick up some squadron members.

As we made an approach to the runway, we could see a North American monsoon to the south, heading toward the airport.

It looked like a solid wall of brown dust with lightning bolts. The air controller in the tower reported calm and clear conditions.

As soon as we landed and made a 180-degree turn on the runway, the monsoon winds hit us.

A P-3 is a fairly large aircraft, weighing about 135,000 pounds when fully loaded, but these winds gave us the sensation that the plane was going to flip over at any moment.

There was so much dirt and sand blowing around that we couldn’t see much more than a few feet outside the windshield.

Even though we were on the ground, the true airspeed dials indicated gusts over 70 mph.

Then after a few minutes of these winds, some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced turned the dirt into mud.

After about five minutes, we could finally see the markings on the runway. We taxied toward the tarmac and saw that several small aircraft had flipped over.

I’ve found a common thread with most aircrews: The longer you fly, the more respect you have for the weather.

This week’s forecast

Friday and Saturday morning’s cold fronts produced between one and two inches of rain in the coastal valleys with lesser amounts in the interior. During the month of February, San Luis Obispo normally receives nearly five inches of rain.

A few rain showers will linger this morning in the coastal mountains.

Otherwise, a transitory 1,022-millibar high will move toward the Central Coast and will produce increasing northwesterly winds and partly to mostly clear weather today.

Temperatures will range between the low to mid-60s throughout our area. Overnight lows will be mostly in the low 40s.

Gentle to moderate (8 to 18 mph) northeasterly (offshore) winds will develop on Monday morning.

This condition will give mostly clear and dry conditions in the coastal valleys and beaches, while low clouds and fog will develop in the interior.

Today’s surface charts indicate a 1,014-millibar low pressure system and associated cold front passing over the Central Coast on Tuesday with increasing clouds and moderate to fresh (13 to 24 mph) southerly winds.

Rain should begin later Tuesday, turning to scattered showers Wednesday morning.

The longer-range charts and models are indicating an intense storm moving toward the West Coast.

At this time, it appears the storm will move north of San Luis Obispo County. Nevertheless, it should produce cloudy weather with a few scattered rain showers and increasing ocean waves late Thursday into the following weekend.

Surf and sea report

This morning’s 8- to 10-foot northwesterly (290-degree deep-water) swell (with a 12- to 22-second period) will decrease to 7 to 9 feet (with a 12- to 17-second period) on Monday.

This swell will further lower to 6 to 8 feet (with an 11- to 15-second period) Tuesday. Combined with Tuesday’s swell, there will be 3- to 4-foot southerly seas.

This swell will decrease to 4 to 6 feet Wednesday and will remain at this level through Thursday morning.

A 955-millibar low pressure system with hurricane force winds is forecast to develop near the international date line later today and will move across the Northern Pacific toward the West Coast.

A long-period west-northwesterly (285-degree deep-water) swell is expected to arrive along the Central Coast late Thursday afternoon at 6 to 8 feet (with a 20- to 22-second period) increasing on Friday morning and afternoon to 11 to 14 feet (with an 18- to 20-second period).

This swell is expected to peak Friday night and Saturday morning at 14 to 16 feet (with a 15- to 17-second period).

Another and perhaps higher west-northwesterly swell is expected along our coastline on Feb. 14. Conservation tip

Follow these tips to save on energy costs:

Caulk windows, doors and anywhere air leaks in or out. Do not caulk around water heater and furnace exhaust pipes. For more energy saving tips, visit

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.