When Sunny SoCal isn't

Daily Pilot

Tanning salons are picking up business because of it, and some people are getting bummed by too much of it.

It's that same old June gloom, when a marine layer descends over the ocean with too much consistency, and so you get the National Weather Service for Orange County and most of Southern California repeating itself: Patchy fog before 11 a.m. Patchy fog expected to last until the early afternoon. Patchy fog after 11 p.m.

Sometimes, the fog doesn't let up.

Because sunshine is a big draw in California, tourists are sometimes surprised by the gloom. Over Memorial Day weekend, many could be seen "freaking out," while they flocked to the Newport Tanning Club at 19th Street and Harbor Boulevard, employees there said.

"God forbid, you be pasty white around Memorial Day or the Fourth of July," says Karina Hernandez, who works at the club and said she's seen a sudden influx of customers that seems to be in direct correlation with the recent fog.

According to those who are versed in weather patterns — namely, meteorologists — the June gloom in Southern California can actually rear its dreary face as early as mid-May, lending credibility to the term "May Gray."

But May Gray was virtually non-existent last month, as sunny skies and warm temperatures dominated the weather headlines, according to the National Weather Service.

Then, like clockwork, quite literally, a few hours before sunset on Memorial Day the skies turned cloudy and it hasn't let up since, the service reported.

Essentially, the more foggy consecutive days translate into cooler ocean temperatures — a phenomenon we refer to as La Niña. Conversely, fewer foggier days in a row means warmer ocean temperatures, or El Niño.

Diana Henderson, a Monterey Bay meteorologist with the National Weather Service, knows a great deal about the phenomenon of fog, which permeates the Central Coast even more so than in Southern California.

Often, June gloom extends itself into July and August, and at times the sun doesn't actually peak through the layer until the late afternoon.

"For the most part," she says, "there's a cold current that runs off the coast. Everybody knows that as soon as they step into the water and feel it. But about this time of year, the air is slightly warmer than the water itself, and when that happens you have moist air sitting up over the water."

And that moist air creates condensation, she said, which in turn creates the fog. She compared it to a glass of water with ice in it just sitting on the kitchen table. Eventually, that ice is going to melt, and there's going to be condensation due to the warm air in the room.

Mixed in with the fog, Henderson said, are all the other particles and pieces of matter that are inevitably a part of the greater ocean atmosphere: salt spray, pollution and "minute particles of gunk."

Henderson said a good indicator that it's scorching hot inland or in California's valleys is the amount of fog that tends to amass over the ocean during the summer. Although this certainly isn't always the case, it's a good rule of thumb to have – about as accurate as you know you're facing west if you see the sun setting.

"As the valleys warm up," she says, "they tend to draw that air in. The higher pressure wants to fill the lower pressure."

That's why you get a lot of fog by the Golden Gate, she added, because Sacramento heats up in July. The fog comes in. A thermal low draws that air in."

William Patzert, who works for the Jet Propulsion Lab for the California Institute of Technology, is an expert in developing climate forecasting over North America by using NASA-generated global date along with land-based climate records.

He says the next seven days in Southern California is supposed to be 15 to 20 degrees above the norm, with temperatures heading into the 80s and 90s.

"Looking for some relief? Head for the coast where the thick marine layer know as June gloom will air condition the coast," he says. "But not that much. This 'gloom' is expected to be wimpy and burn off quickly. Your cool-off of last resort is the Pacific, which remains unseasonably chilly."

He added: "The coming weekend and week will make all of us hanker for some the macho gloom of June's past."

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