When El Nino strikes? The not diving report…. surf / conditions.
For many years while I have dove our local waters I have been naturally curious and motivated to predict optimal diving conditions by observing the many factors around us. Factors such as surf, swell, wind, air/water temperatures, tides and moon phases. It often happens that conditions can go from spectacular to zero unexplainably so all we can do is try to narrow and improve the odds for good conditions.
One of the resources I follow is swell watch on (https://forecasts.surfer.com/) and forecast meteorologist Nathan Cool whom posts regular forecasts and explanations for upcoming weather affecting marine conditions in Southern California. He was also very active following and discussing the 2015-2016 El Nino in his youtube channel.
He has written several books on surf forecasting and climate change and this is his latest book: Surf, Flood, Fire & Mud.
This book really digs into and analyzes the weather phenoms that affect so much of our environment in California and around the world. It also breaks down the cause and affect el nino 2016 to la nina (weather), effects on our terrain leading to wild fires and floods and the more prominent cycle we experience living here in California.
Its a must read for those who want a better understanding and appreciation for the natural forces around us and help in planning dives. While I absolutely encourage you to purchase and read his book I will over time cover many of the points he discusses in the book.
Surf, Flood, Fire & Mud by Nathan Cool
Kindle Book $9.99 / $18.50 Paperback
This winter Southern California has enjoyed remarkable weather consistent with our image of the golden state. There has been an unusually consistent weather phenomenon we know here as the “Santa Ana Winds” or the “Devil Winds”.
Yearly usually from October to March and generated due to High Pressure weather patterns in the Great Basin, the area east of the Sierra Nevadas and Winter storm activity north of that area cause air to flow west sending dry fast moving air through Southern California. This air normally increases the temperature drops the humidity which leads to increased fire risk which led to disastrous fires throughout California this past year and then deadly mudslides with our first rains. Since last year was an El Nino pattern the rain led to more vegetation growth which when dried out amplified the fire risk with the santa ana winds.
The positive effect is on diving conditions whereas the off-shore winds knock down swells and surf and rotates the water offshore bringing clear water from depth and typically improving visibility. It seems like we may be getting a bit of a pause lately as we get some usual and somewhat necessary storm activity into our area for this time of year.
End of Summer and onto California’s version of Winter. For diving it means a shift in swell direction from the Summer’s south swell’s generated by hurricanes and tropical storms that develop off of Mexico to North West swell generated from storms that develop near the Aleutian islands. While in the summer the diving is mostly protected and good off the north Palos Verdes peninsula it now becomes murky somewhat treacherous with surf. We therefore divert dive activities to Laguna and its protected coves Woods / Shaws / Crescent Bay and points such as Montage (aka Treasure Island) has a horseshoe like rock outcropping that protects most entries and diving just about year round. Most of Laguna is also blessed to be protected by its distance to Catalina which for the most part reduces much of the West and North West swell which makes it to the beaches there. We are very blessed to live in Southern California and for those willing to dive off the shores here conditions rarely prevent us from getting in the water.
Too much of a good thing? The waters surrounding the Palos Verdes peninsula are thick with kelp the most in at least 7 or 8 years. Areas like Honeymoon cove have so much kelp there are only a couple narrow paths through the kelp to get out to the middle of the cove. Once underwater there are hundreds of thin strands of young kelp that again divert our normal path to our favorite spots. Navigation is more difficult and important when it comes to returning back to the starting point or at least a spot with less kelp to ease the kick back in.
Update 8/11 : Due to warm surface water 69 ° – Top 10 ft of kelp toward surface in the middle of cove has burned off. Makes for easy kick through the middle of cove.
Besides that though the kelp jungle is amazing and teaming with more and more marine life probably since the kelp serves as an obstacle to boat fisherman and free divers alike.
The water temperatures which have gotten as high as 72 on the surface have cooled off drastically in some spots, perhaps up-welling which should further help the kelp growth.
Saw a documentary on Netflix “Chasing Coral” that reviewed coral bleaching around the world but mostly warm water areas. It reminded me of how tough our marine environment out here is with its frequent water temperature fluctuations and why it really is the best in the world.
We are experiencing some very warm waters again off our coast. Is it El Nino (Part Deux) this Winter? NOAA is reports water temperatures are at or above normal throughout the Pacific right now. We have unusual hot + HUMID conditions here in Southern California.
The photo above taken at the start of the trails that lead down to Neptune Cove/ Golden Cove North Palos Verdes illustrates the local threats to our public beach access. In California in 1972 a law was passed creation of an agency to help ensure the public’s right to beach access. The California Coastal Commission. Before and since then land owners and local municipalities have attempted to erect obstacles as small as “No Beach Access” signs to as large as guarded gates and walls. While it is the Coastal Commissions prerogative to constantly review and to intervene when our access is obstructed it is ultimately our job as local citizens and ocean lovers to get out and use these trails to ensure they remain apparent and therefore more difficult for access to be denied in the future.