Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The Offshores", by Bill Powers

This past Fall, 2008, County Recurrent published an original article by Bill Powers, OLS, Ret, entitled, "The Offshores", as well as a second original article.

Several weeks later, this same article appeared in the Malibu Surfside News, both in print and online in its digital pdf companion publication, thanks to Chief Randy DeGregori, Ret.

With the recent Santa Ana wind conditions, this Off Shore Phenomenon has taken on even more current relevance. Just this past Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009, just past sunset, County Recurrent's staff photographer captured two photos from the Via de la Paz Bluffs in Pacific Palisades and just above Will Rogers Tower #8 at Temescal Canyon and PCH.

Therefore, in an exclusive to County Recurrent, which carries the digital reprint rights on this Blog to "The Offshores" by Bill Powers, we are pairing this exceptional article *** just recently updated and revised *** with the two photographs taken this past Sunday which so clearly show the effect of the Offshores (or Santa Ana conditions) on the ocean's surface.

Looking southeast towards Santa Monica, with WRHQ in the foreground, below):

Looking Due West Toward Malibu and Pt. Dume, below:

Off Shore Winds – Santa Ana’s

Off shore winds normally blow October through March, however, they can happen almost any time of year. October and November are known for the very strong “Santa Ana” conditions when high pressure winds are forced through the canyons from the mountains and eastern deserts. Santa Ana conditions are severe with wind gusts of 60-70 mph and sustained winds in excess of 40 mph. A popular misconception is that the winds are hot owing to their desert origin. Actually, the Santa Ana’s develop when the desert is cold, and are thus most common during the cool season stretching from October through March. High pressure builds over the Great Basin (e.g., Nevada) and the cold air there begins to sink. However, this air is forced down slope which compresses and warms it at a rate of about 10C per kilometer (29F per mile) of descent. As its temperature rises, the relative humidity drops; the air starts out dry and winds up at sea level much drier still. The air picks up speed as it is channeled through passes and canyons.

For residents of Malibu, this weather pattern is known as “fire season” and rightly so. Unless you are new resident to this area, you have seen the devastation of a fire storm. Fire storms can rage down through our canyons, from the 101 freeway to the beach, in a matter of hours. Rough terrain, thick brush, limited street accessibility, and houses throughout the area are all challenges facing our firefighters and residents that need to quickly evacuate their homes.

Santa Ana winds give us hot weather in the middle of winter, sometimes over 80 degrees. These winds also create other conditions such as water clarity and dramatic water temperature changes. After two days of consistent off shore winds, it can blow average surf flat, but generally, the winds create perfect surfing breaks. It will also clear the water and give the local divers the best water visibility of the year. It normally blows the top water out, which causes an upwelling effect, dropping the water temperature. One year, I saw the water temperature drop 11 degrees overnight.

I would like to highlight some of the dangers that come with off shore wind conditions. When you look at the ocean during these winds, it can look very inviting. Usually the ocean is smooth or slightly rippled close to shore due to homes and land formations block the wind. However, 200 or 300 yards off shore, the wind can be two or three times stronger. During strong off shore winds, it can be very difficult to sail or paddle. It can fluctuate wind direction, complicating navigating any craft out at sea. If you are wind surfing and get knocked down a few times, more than likely, you will be getting pushed further offshore.

For lifeguards, we know there are compounding factors – the person is getting panicky, tired, and is being pushed into areas of stronger winds farther off shore. If it is late in the day and losing daylight, the situation can get deteriorate very quickly. If you are in a kayak, the kayak will want to point down wind. Due to sitting aft of the center of the craft, there is more kayak in front of you than behind (creating a sail). If you see someone paddling backwards toward the beach in these winds, they are most likely having trouble. If you get blown away from shore, stay with anything that floats; you will last longer on the outside and you will be easier to spot. If you see someone you think might be in trouble, call 911 and ask for the lifeguards or the call will be routed to another agency. Law enforcement and fire agencies are great organizations, but they will not get in the water to make off shore ocean rescues. The people of Malibu have the privilege of having the finest lifeguard service in the world - Do not hesitate to use them. In choosing, remember it’s better to be on the beach wishing you were in the water than in the water wishing you were on the beach.


Bill Powers
L.A. County Lifeguard - 30 yrs.

("Off Shore Winds – Santa Ana’s" is Copyright 2008 Bill Powers. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission. Do not reproduce without prior permission). Transcription Services provided pro bono by "County Recurrent" News.

Many Thanks to Chief Mike Frazer for giving County Recurrent the head's up with respect to the updated and revised version of this article.

(Photo Credit and Copyright Will Maguire 2009. All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission. Reproduction without consent is prohibited.)


Thanks Again, Bill ! Keep the articles comin' cuz we want to publish other lessons to pass along to the collective that is "County Recurrent".

That's it for now.

Inclusively yours,

Will Maguire, on behalf of COUNTY RECURRENT News

Disclaimer: "COUNTY RECURRENT" is neither affiliated with or sponsored by the County of Los Angeles Lifeguard Operations or LACOLA.

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