Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” In Los Angeles, I’d change that to: “Drive five miles.”
In most cities in the U.S. there’s a single weather forecast. It may be hot, cold, rainy, summer, winter, spring or fall. Here in SoCal, we don’t stick to those strictures. Our geology of mountains, valleys and ocean has determined a diversity of microclimates. Take a drive and in an hour’s time, you could experience multiple temps and a variety of weather conditions.
We are the only city in the US with a mountain range that runs right through town. Mountain ranges formed by the earthquakes that created California’s birth millions of years ago run up and down our state. I learned quickly when I moved here long ago not to expect the same temperature from one Los Angeles area to the other. It pays to keep an extra sweater and an umbrella in the car. And don’t go to the beach at any time of year without a wrap of some sort.
We have Mediterranean climate in LA, just what I sampled when I lived in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s. We have a dry season during the summer and rain, when and if it comes, during the winter. While the rest of the country is heating up in May and June, we don’t have true heat usually until August and September when the desert winds, called Santa Ana’s, occasionally sweep through town and head toward the beach. In May the fog and overcast is labeled May Gray and when it continues through June, it’s June Gloom. Those grand mansions in Malibu and Laguna Beach can be socked in for weeks without a hint of sunshine.
A sample weather forecast (depending upon the season) might be: Beaches (depending on whether they face west or south) — 74; Downtown L.A., often referred to as the Basin—81; Valleys (depending on which ones and where) – 90; Mountains – 75; and Deserts—110. The air conditioning can be roaring in the San Fernando Valley, but a beach excursion would require a sweatshirt and maybe even a windbreaker. Dry hot September has arrived: today’s temp in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley is 90; tonight it will go down to 63!
Rain usually averages 15 inches a year but there are years where it really pours. Where it pours depends on the elevation and the wind patterns. Our weather usually comes from the west, the Pacific Ocean. Mt. Wilson, which has an Observatory, is east of downtown L.A. and 5,730 feet above sea level. It can get an average of 37 inches of rain, while the Civic Center in downtown LA, which is only 260 feet elevation, receives the more normal 15 inches.
In a 1998 LA Times article on LA weather, Gary Ryan, a National Weather Service Meteorologist said, “There’s a bigger difference in elevation between the Los Angeles Civic Center and its surrounding mountains than Denver and its surrounding mountains.” With all the elevations we have in our city, we’ve probably got 20 different microclimate conditions in any one day. As the quote goes, “Variety is the spice of life.”