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Rising Winds
February 4, 1998
By Mark Hoover
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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 Surf crashing on California coast during storm 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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