LAX: Sunny, much to my dismay

Sunny eve

I’ll go ahead and apologize ahead of time to those of you suffering from a late-summer heatwave, the aftermath of Irene, early morning drizzle. This is going to be a story about what everyone says doesn’t exist in LA: weather.

When I moved to LA it was right around this time of year, and summer felt like what summer felt like in most of the places I’d lived (minus the brain-buckling humidity in Atlanta and St. Louis, of course). But I soon realized the weather in my new city would be different. During the first weekend in November I was baking my famous pumpkin bars when I heard a mysterious tapping sound in the kitchen. I crouched on the floor to check the oven’s pilot light, peered into the dusty depths of the cabinets, trying to locate it. Then I happened to glance outside. It was raining. It hadn’t rained the entire three months I had been there. LA had made me completely forget about the concept of rain.

I don’t remember caring much about barometric pressure or dew point before I moved here, but at that moment, I found myself suddenly fascinated with this alien climate. What kind of place did I live in where it never rained from July to November? Perhaps in some way of coping with its absence, since then I have become interested—nay, obsessed! with weather.

In fact, I would love to engage in a conversation with you at any time about torrential rain, freezing temperatures, record heat, the chance of snow. I would be happy to explain the science behind the annual phenomenon of June Gloom (or May Gray, or No Sky July, or Fogust). I could go on and on about LA’s microclimates: how Santa Monica will still be freezing when Silver Lake is muggy, how the 405 draws a fog line along the coast and the 210 can mean the difference between snow and rain. Forget politics, movies, breaking news: I want to talk about 40-to-50-mile-an-hour wind gusts on the Grapevine!

What do I look at first every day when I get up? No, not Twitter. Not Facebook. I go over to the National Weather Service/National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration official forecast page:

If you casually ask me about the weather later today, I’ll tell you it will be slightly cooler, high of 80, with unseasonable fog clearing before noon. I will also tell you that we’ve had a fairly normal month temperature- and precipitation-wise. But then you should be prepared to get an earful from me about the high surf advisory in effect today. It’s a big swell, all the way from New Zealand. Some of the southern-facing beaches will see sets of up to 11 feet! EXCITING!

You could give me a daily pop quiz on LA’s forecast.

Because of my encyclopedic knowledge of LA weather, I can tell you that statistically, yes, it is mostly sunny, blue sky, slight breeze, 72 degrees. We only get, on the average, 35 days of precipitation a year. But the longer I’ve lived here, the longer I’ve spent poring over historical data, the more I yearn to experience the slight—if not seasonal—nuances in LA’s climate.

If you tell me we don’t have seasons the first thing I will show you is my collection of photos featuring LA cloaked in snow. Then I will tell you that the last substantial snowfall we got was in 1949 when it snowed for three days. There was a dusting of snow in Malibu in 2007, and another interesting incident last winter, the day it “graupeled” in the Valley. This was easily one of the worst days of my life. As people posted photos of their yards covered in white possibly-still-frozen pellets, I sat in beautiful Palm Springs and moaned about missing it. “We could have taken the Red Line to snow,” I murmured to no one, burying my face in Instagram photos, trying to imagine Burbank as a winter wonderland.

And don’t say we don’t have extremes. The day that it hit 113 last summer (fall, actually, it was September 27), shattering LA’s records (and breaking the thermometer at USC), I was panting at my computer, trying to get work done but I was so distracted by the historic highs I could hardly type a word. I kept running to update Keith (who had smartly retreated into its cool shade of the garage to paint) on the situation. It’s 105! It’s 110! It’s breaking all the records! But that wasn’t all. A September of record-breaking heat had come on the heels of an exceptionally cold and gloomy summer. We had survived both the hottest and the coldest summer on record. I talked about this FOR WEEKS.

So my point is not that LA is weather-agnostic. But living in LA has made me appreciate weather so much more. I dive for my camera when I start to smell a thunderstorm. When I wake up to fog I pray for an entirely cloudy day. High winds? I’m going for a run. My eyes glitter when I hear “frost advisory.” Just the chance of weather is enough to make another cloudless day in LA special.

Do you savor our sunny days or miss having seasons?

I’m celebrating ten years in LA with ten days of LA stories. Go here for more LAX.

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  • Shannon

    I’ve been loving these posts! I am sure, you know from our first meeting at the Good Energy Issue MeetUp, I am a die hard Angeleno who is loves to talk about my home town. I love dispelling the tabloid myths and rumors that she has earned over the years. Yes, people in LA read, and it does rain, and LA is not a desert (it is a Mediterranean climate butted up against a Chaparral).  I also love listening to people talk/write about LA. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  • Michael Sylvester

    Another great post from you Alissa.

    I play a game with friends: when did it last rain in LA?  Here we are, the last day of August and I can’t remember when it last rained – at least on the westside where I am located. Was it in May?

    Also it’s common for the “marine layer” to burn off around lunch time near the coast. So mid-morning in summer you can have an overcast sky in Venice (it will burn off in a few hours…) but a sunny sky not far away in Culver City. Where is the border between those two zones? It’s a hazy border like the edge of fog. I wonder when Real Estate brokers will start touting property as being two blocks outside of the marine layer = more sun in the morning.

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  • John

    As a third generation Los Angeles native, like you I savor the days we have actual weather – like the photo attached from early Sunday evening from my backyard in Long Beach, shot minutes before a fast moving downpour whipped through my neighborhood. Love your posts, thanks.

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