February 4, 1998
By Mark Hoover
I thought I had paid my dues by staying up all night to fly with the
scientists from CALJET through the huge storm that hit California
yesterday. After landing, I started replacing adrenaline with caffeine as
I made my final push to write and post a dispatch. Yes, I was tired, and I
smelled a nap like a hungry man smells bread outside a bakery.
If you've been watching the news, then you've seen the effects of the storm
we flew through early Monday morning. A lot of coastal California looks
like it's been hit by a runaway train—and it has. It's called the
Pineapple Express, and although this is another one of those junky popular
terms that makes scientists shake their heads, it's apt enough; all the
water dumped on California came from the tropics in the rough vicinity of
Hawaii. A direct corridor of wind established by the southern jetstream
conducted this tropical moisture toward all that expensive southern
California real estate.
The real estate around Monterey isn't too shabby, either, although it was
looking a little ragged as I made my departure Monday evening. First the
winds started gusting, then the sheets and rivers of rain descended, and
soon the power was out. The phones stayed on for awhile, and I was able to
send my e-mail (but not charge my battery) before heading to the airport,
which still had power. But rising winds kept delaying takeoff, and one
minute before departure, the flight was cancelled. The only option was to
drive 75 miles to San Jose to catch a plane scheduled to leave in less than
two hours. So I rented another car, and headed out, with toothpicks holding
my eyes open, and puddles forming in the seat from my sopping clothes.
The highway was a disaster, with pooling water, washouts, trees blown down
in the roadway, and little mountainside brooks turned into whitewater.
Needless to say, I missed the San Jose flight too; my last hope was San
Francisco, and only because the flight was delayed there, too, did I
eventually get on board. As for that nap: I guess I can't blame the two
unhappy babies in the next seat on El Niño.
Two harrowing journeys through the middle of an intense storm in one day is
generally my cut-off. Fortunately, the jetstream was on our tail on the
way home, and the plane made great time. I guess you could say the jet
stream owed me.
Later this week we'll get even closer to the jetstream; we'll travel north
to Alaska to accompany scientists who are studying the jetstream's El
Niño-year weirdness by flying directly into it over the Gulf of Alaska. If
you want to know a lot more about why we have the weather we do in North
America this year, please join us for our adventure to Alaska, as we track
El Niño from a distant outpost.
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