What a Day!

It was one of the most memorable and active weather days I've ever experienced.


Published: June, 2018


It was one of the most memorable and active weather days I’ve ever experienced. If I remember correctly, it was Friday, March 2 of this year.  However, the date isn’t the focus of this column—the events are, and there were many.


The day started with the sky 70 to 75 percent covered with a wide variety of cloud types, scattered at different elevations in the sky. Along with this there were a number of “sun breaks.” (That’s a term I’ve heard only in the Pacific Northwest. It is used in that region to put a positive spin on a much older metrological term: mostly cloudy.) The atmosphere certainly looked unsettled and, as it turned out, this multitude of clouds was a harbinger of things to come.


Those sun breaks began to disappear quite rapidly as the clouds thickened and lowered. Soon it was raining, really hard at times. While in the midst of the heaviest of these torrential downpours, visibility was less than a quarter-mile. A lot of wind accompanied these downpours, with the gusts exceeding 30 knots. Where I work, at OCSC Sailing, 30-knot winds are the absolute limit for conducting on-the-water classes, so we headed in.


When there were breaks in the rain, we were astonished to see that this storm was leaving a scattering of snow on the tops of the East Bay hills and also on Mt. Tamalpais. Nothing very heavy, but snow on the Bay Area hills is infrequent enough to be a surprise.


While waiting for the winds to diminish, Mother Nature provided us with yet another present from her seemingly endless bag of tricks. This time it was hail. It was pea-sized and smaller, but enough to cover the parking lots and docks with a complete coating of lumpy white bumps that crunched underfoot.


As the wind returned to a more normal 15 to 18 knots, we went out sailing again. Then came the fog, bringing with it zero visibility. In our training area immediately outside the Berkeley Marina, when visibility is severely reduced, we sail a course of 140° magnetic (slowly!) in order to locate the old Berkeley Pier. Then we turn left and follow it to the marina entrance—which is exactly what we did in this instance. However, the fog dissipated very quickly, and we were soon back out on the water.


Later in the day, the next weather event was lighting and thunder. It’s not the best plan to be out in the open on a relatively flat surface with a tall metal pole sticking up in the air when lighting is striking. Fortunately, this disturbance was way off to the south and seemed to be moving away, so it was not an issue.


As the day began to wind down, all of this extraordinary meteorological diversity had moved out of the Bay Area and was in the process of depositing a couple of feet of much needed snow in the Sierras. The atmosphere over San Francisco Bay had settled down, and the sky was now clear and a beautiful robin’s egg blue, dotted with puffy little cumulus clouds.


To top it all off, later that night there was an earthquake. It was centered five kilometers beneath Piedmont in north Oakland and had a magnitude of 2.8. Not very strong, I know, but strong enough to wake me up when it struck at 3:04 a.m. I realize that is technically the next day, but still within a 24-hour period of the crazy weather I experienced beforehand.


Clouds, rain, snow, hail, fog, big wind, lighting, thunder and an earthquake. What a day indeed!


Ray Wichmann is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty.  He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.