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From today’s swells to 1939’s monsters


Time to turn our attention to the Gulf of Alaska, which will be

pretty much running the show for the next six or seven months. It’s

early October and the North Pacific is coming to life.


A deep trough is expanding south and south east, poised to fling a

lot of low-level rain and mountain snow in the Pacific Northwest’s

direction. Maybe toward us too.

I’m watching the high pressure ridge break down as I write. It’s


Monday at 2 p.m. and looking to the south, a solid stratus blanket

lays just a few miles off shore. It’s still sunny and warm here at

water’s edge, but a southerly breeze is putting a texture on the once

glassy ocean surface.

Lord knows we need the water. We’ve had 2 inches since New Year’s!

L.A. is coming off its driest year ever -- 4.42 inches. That’s

exactly what we had too. Normal for a whole season in L.A. is almost

15 inches, and here about 12. So Laguna’s wettest and second driest


year happened in the last five years:

37.27 inches in 1997-98

4.42 inches in 2001-02

What does 2002-03 look like? I’ll go with 12-14 inches -- near


OK, start up the time machine and travel back to 1939.

No school again. It’s 102 degrees at 10 a.m. A Laguna Beach

lifeguard is taking the water temperature down at Main Beach. The


ocean is dead flat. He swims out a few yards with the thermometer,

drops it down a few feet on a string, pulls it back up to the

surface, 80 degrees. He drops it down again, just to double check.

Bingo! 80 degrees.

One hour later, 6-foot sets suddenly appear out of the extreme


The category 5 monster has shifted to a northwest direction at 800

miles south/southwest of the tip of Baja.

Sept. 21, 1939: Hotter than ever, 106 degrees in Laguna, 80

degrees ocean. 25 mph, NE offshore, surf is now 8 to 10 feet plus and increasing by the hour.

The spinner is now heading north/northwest (340 degrees) sitting

700 miles southwest of the tip.

Sept. 22, 1939: Now the surf is 12 to 15 feet. Once again it’s way

over 100 degrees. Ships at sea report the storm at 750 west/southwest

of the tip or 1150 to our south/southwest

Sept. 23, 1939: Still hot, but more humid. High-level mare’s tails

begin to invade the southern sky. There is no wind, and the surf is

now 15 feet plus and reportedly from old icon “Peanuts” Larson,

Killer Dana is over 20 feet and it’s breaking a mile out. Full cloud

break conditions never seen before -- or since for that matter.

The thing is still a dangerous wind machine and it is headed due

north only 600 miles southwest of here. We now become a target.

Sept. 24, 1939: Lines of thunderheads appear with lightning every

few seconds. It’s 90 degrees at midnight. The surf can be heard at

Top of the World and at Big Bend. It’s dead calm. The water is 81

degrees and every set breaks over the pier over Bird Rock.

Sept. 25, 1939: It all came down. Climaxing a week of extreme

events, unmatched to this day! We may not see that again for

generations to come.

I wish I had been there. Any time machines for sale in the latest


* DENNIS McTIGHE is a Laguna Beach resident. He earned a

bachelor’s degree in Earth Sciences from UC San Diego and was a USAF

weatherman at Hickman AFB, Hawaii.