John Daniel Luna: I have seasonal depression in the way that California has seasons, which is to say it’s all one season. And that season is depression.
I work at an international law firm with offices in London, Paris, and and at various locations throughout the U.S. We had visitors in our offices earlier this week, all from our Boston office. All three attorneys agreed that the Orange County office is the place to be. One guest even said “being here makes me wonder why we even have an east coast!”
In the past month, we had two attorneys transfer to our office–one from Boston and one from Washington, D.C. So far, they don’t regret a minute of the hard work that goes into packing and moving cross-country. And when the Today show is airing stories about snow impacting travel at the local airport back east, they can be satisfied that they might have to put on a sweater that day. And their friends in Boston and Washington, D.C. will be mighty jealous.
Today is a beautiful day. A little overcast (maybe it’s the “marine layer”?) but the temperature is lovely. And we have other Boston visitors today who are presenting a business development function at a location right on the water here in Newport Beach. Local clients + out-of-town attorneys = lots to talk about.
When we moved to California in 1982, my mother was unhappy about what she perceived to be a lack of seasons. Every day was sunny, maybe a cloud in the sky, no need for a coat. Boots could have stayed back in New York. One day, when we’d been living here for a few months, the skies opened up and we had rain. Lots of it. My mother literally went outside the condo and started dancing in the rain. She was so excited that the weather had actually changed and she could feel a difference in the air.
Each time it rains here, I remember that scenario. Despite what you’ve heard from the 1972 Albert Hammond song (a one-hit wonder!):
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours
It does rain here. Just not often. A recent article explains why rain is good for us in Southern California.
- It doesn’t rain often. As you’d expect for sunny Southern California, nine out of 10 days are dry. Downtown L.A. only averages 36 days a year with measurable precipitation. Both Chicago and New York typically have three to four times more wet days per year than Los Angeles.
- Usually, it doesn’t rain for months. California has one of the most well-defined wet and dry seasons anywhere in the lower 48 states. It is typical for L.A. to go months without a single drop of rain from late spring into early fall. Over 90 percent of the Southland’s average rain falls in just six months’ time from November through April.
- Rain can help snuff out wildfires. Once that first decent rain arrives after the dry season, it can be a huge blessing in one regard. While wildfires can occur in California virtually any time of year, early fall is typically the peak in Southern California, particularly when Santa Ana winds howl through canyons and passes with vegetation dried out from months without rain. There is no bigger friend to firefighters than a steady, soaking rain.
- But it can be a menace for burn areas. Paradoxically, long after a wildfire is out, the charred, barren strip of land left behind is very susceptible to flooding. A local meteorologist states: “After years of drought and wildfires, the vegetation has been stripped away along many slopes. Those slopes can’t handle a deluge.” Debris flows can occur with relatively light rain rates and can be a threat for years until the slope’s vegetation recovers.
- It can also trigger landslides elsewhere. It isn’t just burn scars that can experience landslides. If you’ve seen coverage of a strong California storm, you’ve probably seen video of a home either teetering or tumbling down a hillside. The cumulative effect of repeated Pacific storms – or one particularly wet, long-lived storm – can trigger rockslides that block major roads or claim expensive hillside homes.
- It worsens L.A’s notorious traffic. Combine the legendary bad traffic of Southern California with infrequent rain, and you can imagine the results. After months of dry weather, motorists may be inexperienced when it comes to driving in the rain. Following a long dry period, the initial coating of rain mixes with deposits of oil from vehicles, which makes roads slick. “We can have less than a tenth of an inch of rain, and motorists drive like there was an inch per hour rate,” said another local meteorologist. “It’s embarrassing.” Given the concrete jungle of Southern California, even moderate rain tends to run off quickly rather than soak into the ground, flooding streets and, occasionally, parts of freeways and on/off-ramps.
- It can also foul beaches. Some runoff from heavy rain eventually makes it to the ocean, funneled through such concrete channels as the Los Angeles River. This fast-rushing water is not only dangerous for anyone nearby; it also contains lots of trash and debris that eventually makes its way to some beaches in the Southland. This stormwater runoff can negatively impact water quality for days after a heavy rain event, prompting closures of some popular beaches.
- But California needs it. Despite the problems with runoff and flooding in the L.A. Basin, these Pacific storms are vital to the area’s water supply. Heavy snowpack deposited by these storms in the Sierra and high country of California melts in spring, recharging reservoirs ahead of the long dry season. A wet season without these storms almost always leads to drought in Southern California, as was the case the past several years.
It’s a love-hate relationship L.A. has with rain – an annoyance for those who value the perfection of sunny Southern California, yet a necessity for life in this dry climate. However, I’m sure that our east coast visitors will be happy to forego having their offices closed for snowstorms.