Decoded Science has chosen three locations where the weather this weekend will be beautiful. And oddly, some of the worst weather on the planet is only a few miles from some of the best.
You Can’t Go Wrong In Hawaii
Except during the rare event of a tropical storm, there’s always someplace in Hawaii that’s nice. The mountains shield the lee sides from rain; if it’s too hot at sea level, go a couple of thousand feet up the mountain; water and air temperatures on the beaches are always subtropical.
There are even rain forests for those who like it really wet – and you can ski on one of the 13,000 foot mountains.
Snow On Mount Mauna Loa
If you’re planning to visit the observatory on the summit of Mount Mauna Loa, Hawaii this weekend in order to see for yourself how they measure the increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, you should check the latest weather advisory. As of this morning, the road, which was closed due to blizzard conditions Wednesday and Thursday has been reopened, but it’s still icy. The wind is still gusting to 60 miles per hour. Conditions are expected to continue to improve through the weekend.
It’s no surprise that it snows on Mauna Loa or its sister peak Mauna Kea. The temperature at sea level on the Big Island is around 80 degrees. Since temperature drops about 4 degrees per thousand feet of altitude in the atmosphere, the temperature at the 13,000 foot summit is frequently below freezing. At that elevation, nearly in the jet stream, gale-force to hurricane-force winds are common.
The jet stream has now taken a southward dip in the Pacific, courtesy of El Niño Eggplant, and more blizzards are possible.
Visit Hawaii’s Volcanoes
While you’re on the Big island, take in the ongoing eruption of Mount Kilauea. You can walk on the hardened lava of this slow-motion eruption, which is mostly just some outgassing, but occasionally a lava flow threatens nearby towns. Once in awhile some hot lava flows into the sea, creating a pretty spectacular sight.
As opposed to the slow-motion eruption of Kilauea, Mauna Loa is given to violent outbursts every so often (‘every so often’ is a scientific term meaning roughly a few decades). The last time Mauna Loa blew its top was in 1974, so maybe it’s due.
You can find a place on the Big island that’s satisfactory for whatever you want to do. You like rain: Hilo, facing northeast, gets over 120 inches per year. You like dry: Kailua-Kona, facing west, gets less than 20 inches per year. They are both at sea level. So why the big difference in rainfall?
Hawaii is in the tropics, and the trade winds nearly always dominate. The easterly winds blow a lot of moisture into Hilo.
As the air traverses the mountains, the moisture precipitates out. Remember the air temperature falls as much as 50 degrees from base to summit. At colder temperatures, air cannot hold as much water vapor as it can at warmer temperatures. The moisture is left on the windward side of the mountain and the leeward side is dry.
This effect of little rain on the lee side of a mountain is called a rain shadow.
The dip in the jet stream that brought a blizzard to the tops of the mountains is also causing west winds at the surface, and Kailua-Kona has gotten a few tenths of an inch of rain in the last few days.
Surfing In Hawaii
Winter surfing is best on north and west facing beaches, as large Pacific Ocean storms produce high waves. One such storm reached a peak on Wednesday in the Gulf of Alaska, and the largest breakers to reach Hawaii, possibly topping 25 feet, will arrive today and slowly diminish over the weekend. Only the most proficient surfers should try to negotiate these waves.
The Perfect Place For Those Feeling Lucky
The western United States has experienced a record warm winter. Las Vegas will have the best of it this weekend, with no rain, daytime temperatures in the low 80s, and nighttime lows in the comfortable high 50s.
All this is courtesy of the enduring ridge of high pressure associated with warm water off the northwest coast. The pattern has been broken a couple of times by intrusions from the subtropics associated with El Niño Eggplant, but this weekend the ridge holds fast and temperatures will be about fifteen degrees above normal — a perfect spring weekend for whatever stays in Vegas.
The Best Spring Break Location
If you’re joining the exodus of students from northern college towns, the best place to go this weekend is Where The Boys Are — Fort Lauderdale — and surrounding areas of Florida’s Gold Coast.
It’s as good as Las Vegas, with high temperatures in the middle 80s — and it has an ocean. If you want to gamble, don’t worry — there are plaenty of gambling boats that simply need to go three miles from shore to be in gambling heaven: they only have to comply with Federal Laws (Vegas has to comply with Nevada laws and local ordinances).
Dangers In The Deep And Shallow
The water temperature in the Fort Lauderdale area is a pleasant 76 degrees. However, all is not perfect in the ocean; here are three things to look out for:
- Portuguese Man-of-war: This is a blue jellyfish, popularly called man o’ war, with a large bubble that acts as a sail and carries the animal wherever the wind blows. When the wind is east in south Florida, as it is now, swarms of the blue devils sometimes pile up on the beaches. Though it might look pretty with its bluish-violet color, the man o’ war is nothing to mess with. Its sting is horrible and the pain lasts for days. If you get stung, the traditional medication is meat tenderizer; but the best thing you can do is avoid them. Don’t touch one that is on the sand — even one that seems dried up and harmless — they retain potency for a long time. And don’t swim if the lifeguards have hoisted the blue flag.
- Sharks: You know what they look like. The danger of sharks is way overstated and overhyped. No shark wants to eat a human being — there isn’t enough fat content. All bites are misunderstandings. That’s why the wounds from shark encounters are often minor: The shark realizes its mistake and lets go. Occasionally, especially at this time of year when sharks are migrating north along the coast, beaches will be closed due to sharks, but normally sharks pose no threat to swimmers.
- Rip tide: This is also called undertow, although it won’t drag you under. The rip tide is a flow at the surface from the beach to the open sea. It occurs when the wind piles water up at the shoreline and this water has to return to the deep. Normally this occurs as a return flow beneath the landward surface flow, but occasionally a narrow band of fast-flowing seaward-going water will reach the surface. If you’re caught in a rip tide, swim parallel to the shore and you’ll soon be out of it.
If You Can’t Get To Where The Weather Is Nice, The Nice Weather Will Come To You — Eventually
Ok, so you’re stuck in the snowed-in northeast or flooded Kentucky. Look on the bright side: The sun will be north of the equator by the time you read this column next Friday. Look around. There must be signs of better things to come.