Since many people from other portions of the US or world don't seem to think that California has interesting weather, (see there are no seasons in california) I am going to briefly describe what it is like to be in a good storm in California, specifically in the more coastal areas. We dont usually have much lightning, tornados are rare (although possible, especially in LA and the Central Valley), snow doesnt fall in the valleys, and hurricanes are almost unknown. But in their generally non-violent way, California storms have an awesome power of their own.

Generally the first sign of an incoming storm in California is a few soft wispy cirrus clouds. In the dry season, these will usually drift on by and clear up in a few hours. But in the wet season, they often foreshadow rain and wind. Oftentimes the clouds smear across the sky in the evening, and the first sign of an incoming storm is a brilliant red and yellow sunset. If you are near the beach, a soft push of marine air may come drifting in, covering the area in a shroud of low clouds. But usually, the fog is pushed offshore by the incoming storm.

The storm clouds soon thicken and soon mottled, lower clouds such as altostratus and altocumulus move in. About this time you will notice that the wind is coming from the south, or the southeast, even though the clouds are moving in from the west. Upon closer observation, the clouds themselves often are moving from the southeast, but backing up against the building storm like water against a newly built dam. Soon the wind gets that california-pre rain smell that is so poignant, and the clouds thicken more. The real sign that rain is imminent is the smoothing of the clouds to the west; if rain is falling often it will cover up the texture of the clouds. If there are hills to the west, they will disappear behind the rain.

The rain first comes in a gust of south wind, spattering on the sidewalks and in the dry grass. Usually the start of the storm is a time of soft rain, and the rain slowly builds to a steady, gentle drenching. About this time the clouds lower even more and begin moving fast from the southeast. during the real big storms they are visibly churning across the sky and seem to be barely above the tops of buildings and trees. As the day (or night) goes on, the rain increases slowly in intensity. At times it will come through in waves, but each one more of a downpour than the one before. At the height of the storm the clouds tearing up from the southeast will lose their definite motion as the cold air coming in from the northwest slams up against them.

At the most severe portion of the storm the rain is pouring down but often breaks in the cloud can already be seen to the west. If it is late evening the sun will blast under the storm at the last minute, turning everything orange and making a huge rainbow. Its an incredibly eerie, cool time, and soon the clouds begin rolling in from the west, the rain slacks off, and the air noticably cools. The main portion of the storm is over.

if you're lucky and the low pressure area backing up the front is heading for your area, the storm will not be over yet. Often there are several hours of clear skies but to the west puffy cumulus clouds can be seen. The cold air behind the front is inherently unstable, and the low pressure areas often churn up more convective precipitation. although the rain isnt as long in duration as the rain associated with the first part of the storm (the 'front') it will often be much more severe and dynamic. The rain will move through in bands and sometimes lightning and even hail will accompany it, especially in the spring. As time passes, little lines of rain may continue to move through but they become fewer and less severe. Soon the storm will have cleared away, but the clouds will remain backed up against the mountains, producing all kinds of snow. about 6-12 hours later these finally clear away too and the mountains emerge, totally white with new snow.

This hypothetical storm is pretty much for Southern California, but from what i've seen they are pretty similar in central CA, and also in Davis, except for the really neat wave clouds that form over the coastal range up here.

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