Crazy Weather — Last Minute Changes


The Palm Springs area is known for it’s beautiful weather, especially now during ‘the season.’ For most, today was no exception. For some it was nuts!

I planned on showing a telescopic image of last night’s asteroid fly-by. It’s cool show-and-tell. I got to do that at five, but it was quickly pushed off my agenda.

My forecast yesterday called for moderate to strong winds this afternoon. By 4:30 police had closed Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs because of reduced visibility in blowing sand! I quickly worked up a graphic showing the gusts tonight.

As we went to air (and the road reopened) I got a photo of what looked like a funnel cloud. I hurriedly pushed that into my TriCaster and aired it a few minutes later.

It was probably a landspout. Conventional tornadoes come from mature storm cells. Landspouts are weak tornadoes that form early as storms are building.

This evening I got the video you see at the bottom of this entry. It’s the landspout near Desert Center (population around 150), a rural community surrounded by sandy wilderness. I showed it briefly at 9:00 and will feature it again at 11:00.

The landspout was unexpected, unforecast and unseen by Doppler radar! Luckily, It did no harm. It made for great TV.

A Definite Maybe

rtwrfdomainsSince last Wednesday I’ve been talking about the chance of the Palm Springs area getting a few sprinkles this Thursday. In most places caring about an iffy forecast for a tiny event so far in advance would be a non-starter. Not so in the desert where long time residents look forward to our few cloudy days!

So, here we are Monday. This is the sixth day since rain was first mentioned. I’m barely closer to knowing than I was then!

First, an admission. Without supercomputers no one could attempt a seven or eight day forecast. The atmosphere’s just too complex. But computer’s have shortcomings. I use the GFS model this far out.

The entire globe is covered by the GFS at a base horizontal resolution of 18 miles (28 kilometers) between grid points, which is used by the operational forecasters who predict weather out to 16 days in the future. Horizontal resolution drops to 44 miles (70 kilometers) between grid point for forecasts between one week and two weeks.

One point every 18 miles! At that resolution mountains disappear. Everything becomes a coarse approximation.

Later today Thursday will be seen in the much higher resolution CANSAC (California and Nevada Smoke and Air Committee) WRF model. CANSAC’s WRF only sees out 72 hours, but with 2km (1.2 mile) resolution.

For the geekiest reading, here’s the hardware CANSAC uses to run the WRF.

The CANSAC WRF real-time forecast system is operated on an SGI® ICE 8200 high-performance computer. Specifications are:

256 cores (Intel Xeon X5570)
384 GB RAM memory
20 TB disk space.

In the interim lots of human expertise is needed. The mountains west of the Coachella Valley are critically important. The models might not resolve them well, but I have to. They are a major reason we see less than six inches of rain in an average year (just over two inches since this year’s ‘wet’ season began in October).

I said Wednesday the coast was much more likely to see rain than Palm Springs. That still holds true.

If we get anything it will be tiny. In the desert that’s enough to perk ears.

Rain’s A Big Deal Here

Meteogram Generator

We do a seven day forecast at KMIR. Yesterday I mentioned Day Eight. It got a shout out (as Day Seven) again tonight. That’s because there’s rain forecast next Thursday.

The actual value to rain in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs area) is debatable. We average less than six inches per year. The majority of our water comes from an underground aquifer. It would be long gone if not supplemented by water piped in from Parker Dam on the Colorado River. Rainfall seeping down is a small piece of our specific puzzle.

Nature doesn’t provide nearly enough to support our population and the hundreds of thousands of tourists who arrive every week during the season.

Whether rainwater helps or not, people in the valley value it. Mentioning rain here is like mentioning snow in New England. It grabs your attention.

If you break down next Thursday’s rain forecast over Palm Springs, it comes to .06″. Tiny. Hardly noticeable.

A forecast for that small amount of liquid a week away is chancy at best, especially when you throw in:


Wish us luck. It will get my attention on every newscast.

Who Said I’d Be Bored?

Some computer models show around an inch of rain in Palm Springs by Monday morning. That’s a lot in a place that floods easily. I spent time tonight explaining ‘washes’ to the tourists and snowbirds watching.


I’m forecasting the weather for the Coachella Valley at KMIR. The physics of weather are the same, but there are different tools to use.

Satellite imagery is a lot more important here. Anything coming from the Pacific is out of radar range nearly all the way to the coast.

I’ve been looking at a plume of moisture from north of Hawaii curving up the Pacific then back down the West Coast. It’s the big weekend weather maker for SoCal. The only way to see it is from the bird.

Saturday, while it’s raining in LA and San Diego, there will be partly cloudy skies over Palm Springs with a few sprinkles. We are protected by steep mountains, some over 11,000 feet tall.

On Sunday the moisture heads in from the south. No protection there! That’s when we get the bulk of our rain.

Some computer models show around an inch of rain in Palm Springs by Monday morning. That’s a lot in a place that floods easily. I spent time tonight explaining ‘washes’ to the tourists and snowbirds watching.

On top of the rain we’ve got wind for Saturday and as much as a foot and a half of snow in some mountain locations.

Who said I’d be bored forecasting here?

Rain Shade Is Major

Locales have individual climatic quirks like baseball parks have ground rules. The Coachella Valley, where the vast majority of our viewers live, is a protected valley. We are flanked by mountains. We get “rain shade.” Real term. I didn’t make it up.  flashloop.php model wrf product 2015022200 3hrPRECIP_ domain _D3

My job is forecasting the weather at KMIR. Our market, Palm Springs, covers a small geographic area. It’s not even a whole county!

People think it’s boring to forecast in the desert. Nah. Sometimes it’s repetitive. I can deal with that. There’s always something interesting going on.

Locales have individual climatic quirks like baseball parks have ground rules. The Coachella Valley, where the vast majority of our viewers live, is a protected valley. We are flanked by mountains. We get “rain shade.” Real term. I didn’t make it up.

The San Bernardino Mountains are north, San Jacinto and Santa Ana Mountains west and the Little San Bernardino Mountains are off to the east. We’re wedged in tight.

A small storm hitting SoCal this weekend will drop nearly all its rain before it gets to Palm Springs! The largest rainfall will be on the eastern slopes of the Santa Ana’s. The east face of the San Jacinto range should drain most of what’s left. The tallest mountaintops will get snow.

The notoriously awful QPF (Quantitative Precipitation Forecast) from the GFS model say .06″ Sunday and another .04″ Monday at Palm Springs Airport (PSP). John Wayne Airport (SNA), west of Palm Springs and on the coastal side of the mountains, is forecast for .33″, over three times as much.

There’s are reasons Palm Springs gets less than six inches of rain in an average year. Rain shade is major.

Hey Skinny Pop, Thanks For The Air

Last night I opened the bag. Look what fills around a third of it. Air!

Skinny Pop popcorn, showing the popcorn and air I bought!

When I returned to the Coachella Valley a cache of food and snacks accompanied by me. Everything was neatly packed away, except for a giant bag of popcorn. It had to be handled on its own. Too big to ride with the other edibles.

It’s tough to miss the screaming large type. “SKINNY POP POPCORN.” “BIGGER SIZE.”

Last night I opened the bag. Look what fills around a third of it. Air!

There are lots of bigger problems to complain about, but I didn’t want Skinny Pop’s slick move to go unnoticed.

Seriously, Skinny Pop? Air?

The Longer Way To Work

I was looking at traffic, but not paying a lot of attention to navigating. Then I passed the sign that said I was entering San Diego County. That’s not right.

Google Location history



My route to work is simple. Well, usually it’s simple. Not today.

I was on the phone with my friend Barry Schulman, chatting and enjoying the ride. I was looking at traffic, but not paying a lot of attention to navigating. Then I passed the sign that said I was entering San Diego County. That’s not right.

Somehow I’d gotten off CA91 and onto I-15. I was making good time, just not in the right direction.

DCIM101MEDIAThe GPS, not turned on until now, pointed the way through desert and chaparral via CA371 and CA74 (aka the “Pines to Palms Highway”). These were two lane roads through the wilderness. I passed three Indian Reservations, a handful of ranches and one outcropping with horse sculptures.

_MG_9693My 1:40 trip took an extra hour!

There is good news. Within 10 miles of Palm Desert is Vista Point. You’re high above the Coachella Valley with a spectacular view of the Palm Springs region and the hairpin of a road I was on.

Back At Work


I’m back in Palm Springs. Gino and Janet at 5 and 6. Gino solo at 9 and 11. Excellent. Good company.

I’m here while Helaine wrangles the electrician tomorrow. Sockets are being added and removed. Studio lights and a large digital clock are being hung.

My phone is by the bed.

IMAG2065The boss wanted my hair shorter. Fine. Joseph does a lot of TV people in LA and spends weekends in Palm Springs. Looks good… and short.

I’m in a nice hotel near the Indian Wells “Tennis Garden.” My room for the week is really a small one bedroom apartment. They call it a suite. Not home. It makes my stay much easier.

Quiet right now. Peacefully so. TV off. We’ll see how long I can take the lack of stimulation.

My place has a giant balcony with a mediocre view of an interior courtyard. It’s better than that sentence makes it sound. 77 tomorrow! I’ll open the door and let the fresh air in.

I assume a few of you are Coachella Valley residents who Googled my name, found my site and started reading.


You live in a wonderful area. It’s beautiful here. Even the summer.

I’m Geoff. This is my blog, a fairly detailed retelling of my life since July 4, 2003. There’s a new entry nearly every day.

I’m on Facebook and Twitter and respond to comments. I like forecasting the weather and talking about it on TV.

All weather forecasters are reasonably accurate nowadays. I make no claim to have the highest accuracy. My strength is explaining the weather in a way that leaves you understanding what’s to come while enjoying yourself.

I am loose on-the-air and often ‘break the fourth wall.’ Call me enthusiastic.

Find me weeknights at 5,6,9 and 11 on KMIR and KPSE. My wife and daughter will appreciate it.

It’s Winter In SoCal



The NWS chat channel has been up in another browser window most of the past two days. It’s a meeting place for media, emergency managers and NWS forecasters. All the chatter has been winter related.

Finally after a year and a half, SoCal winter has found the Foxes.

The main player is a storm from the north which managed to stay inland and stay cold. It doesn’t happen often.

Indio, at the far end of the Coachella Valley, only got to 53 today. Every other December 31 on record was warmer by at least two degrees and the record goes back to 1894!

We’re about as far south as Charleston, SC. Snow fell at an altitude of 1350 feet above sea level.

Hundreds of cars were stranded in dozens of spots. Parts of I-10 and I-15 were snowcovered. Driving in snow is much different here where slopes are steep and long. Chains are required.

My cousin, Melissa told Helaine this was the coldest she could remember. The wind was probably her deciding factor. We had gusts in the mid 30s overnight. Trash cans were flying. Some mountaintops and passes went over 60 mph.

The Sun was out this morning. I looked toward Santiago Peak, around dozen miles from here, and saw white!

“Be right back,” I told Helaine, then hopped in the car to take the two shots above.

By early next week we’ll be back in the mid 70s. It’s winter in SoCal.

Taking The Aerial Tramway Up Mount San Jacinto

The Tramway is an 8,500 foot climb in a small, often swinging, car. The propulsion is delivered by thick cables strung over a series of isolated towers. Trust me–I’m describing Helaine’s ultimate nightmare scenario!

palm-springs-aerial-tramway.jpg“Why don’t you go?” Helaine asked. She was suggesting I ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on our last day in town.

It was a tough choice because I knew she wouldn’t go. Helaine has a real fear of heights.

The Tramway is an 8,500 foot climb in a small, often swinging, car. The propulsion is delivered by thick cables strung over a series of isolated towers. Trust me–I’m describing Helaine’s ultimate nightmare scenario!

Mount San Jacinto is an amazing camera platform&#185 and, of course, that was the appeal for me. The Coachella Valley spreads out below with distant mountains marking its eastern edge.

The day was clear and mild. I threw on my jacket knowing the temperature would drop quickly with altitude. Even from the valley floor it was easy to see there was snow at the summit.

The Tramway is a short drive from Downtown Palm Springs. After turning off the main road you climb 2,500 feet before hitting the visitor center. Signs warn drivers to turn off their air conditioning lest they overtax and overheat their car!

windmills-from-mt-san-jacinto.jpgThe ride to the top was uneventful. The cable car makes two full rotations as it ascends. That assures everyone a good view.

I wish there were more open windows. Shooting through the glass is not the way to get good photos.

It was cool at the top, probably in the 40&#176s. The snow on the ground was unlike any we get here in Connecticut. It was ‘dry’ and compressed. Snow on this summit tends not to melt but sublimates away into the very dry air. There were snowy areas and clears areas, but minimal mud and no puddles!

mount-san-jacinto-nature-trail.jpgMy day at the top (December 4, 2009) was nearly dead calm. A storm moving through yesterday brought the temperature down to 14.8&#176 with wind gusts to 81 mph! I timed it right.

There’s a patio which rings the Mountain Station. From there I shot a few dozen photos of the valley below. Then I headed around back. West of the station are trails running through high mountain valleys. I picked the seemingly easy Nature Trail and began to walk.

The trail itself is easy–just 3/4 of a mile through mainly flat ground. Getting to and from the trail is a little more problematic down a long, winding, steep ramp.

tall-trees-in-long-valley-mount-san-jacinto.jpgAdded to the weight of my camera gear and steepness of the ramp is the altitude. Up on Mount San Jacinto each breath of air provides nearly 1/3 less oxygen than at sea level! This is really thin air. You feel it.

The trail itself was really pretty, but I was alone and missed Helaine. Is that too sentimental? I can’t help myself–it’s true. I know. This wasn’t the place for her. I still wish there was some way we could have shared the experience.

no-service-iphone.jpgThis was real wilderness. My cellphone showed “No Service.” That’s the 21st Century way of proving you’re removed from society.

It was a different story at the Mountain Station where I got email, answered phone calls and sent text messages.

There’s something wrong about that, isn’t there? I should have left the phone in the car, but I’m too weak. I need my tech fix.

I killed a little time hoping for some good nighttime shots with the lights of Palm Springs in view. That was a photographic failure. I never did get a really good, sharp shot after the Sun went down.

I caught the 5:00 PM trip to the bottom and was back at the hotel 10 minutes later. It was an afternoon well spent.


&#185 – Here, as with most of the entries on this blog, clicking a photo will get you a larger version with more detail.

On The Way To The Springs

This was a great trip to Vegas–not just because of my luck at poker. I had a great time with Helaine and my cousins and especially with Stefanie.

I’m writing from Las Vegas McCarran Airport. Thanks Google for the free WiFi. Next stop on this vacation is Palm Springs. It’s no secret this is the leading candidate for our retirement… whenever that is.

Palm Springs and Las Vegas are perfectly separated to make the choice between flying and driving difficult. It was truly a toss-up… even with Helaine finding a $25 fare between here and Ontario (where Southwest flies). With our companion pass that’s $25 for two, plus whatever taxes and fees are added, And, of course, on Southwest bags fly free&#185.

We had breakfast at the Grand Lux Cafe and then, on the way to the room, the cows called. We stopped at Invaders from Planet MOOlah.

MOOlah-cow.jpgI’ve written about this slot machine before. If a slot machine can be fun and entertaining MOOlah is! It’s been sort of like an ATM for Helaine and me.

“One day they’ll do an audit and find they made a mistake programming it,” I said to Helaine.

We threw a few bills in, started pressing buttons and… nothing. Oh, the pictures moved across the screen and our money supply lessened, but no payoff. Every once in a while we’d get a quarter back. Unfortunately, it was $1.25 per pull. A quarter back was a Pyrrhic victory to be sure.

I looked at Helaine. “Maybe they caught on?”

The next spin we hit nothing, but mysteriously MOOlah moved into the bonus round. It’s as if one of the cows said, “Oh, the Foxes. We like them.”

Within two minutes our original buy-in had tripled. We printed a coupon, took it to an ATM, cashed out and went upstairs to move out.

We were out of the room at 12:10 and at the airport 20 minutes later. Our flight leaves in 50 minutes.

This was a great trip to Vegas–not just because of my luck at poker. I had a great time with Helaine and my cousins and especially with Stefanie. She was a joy to be with. That will make it that much more difficult when she moves to California next month.

Palm Springs is a whole different vibe. Though also in the desert it is much more laid back than Vegas. It is heavily populated by “gray and gay” (and in some cases both at the same time).

It’s also warmer than Las Vegas year-round. As I type this it’s 72&#176 in Palm Springs but just 59&#176 here in Vegas. When it’s 105&#176 in the Las Vegas summer sun it can easily be 10&#176 warmer in the Springs.

For the next few days we expect to see snow as we drive–but safely on the mountains that surround the Coachella Valley.

&#185 – I mention this because I want to make sure Southwest never changes this 20th Century policy.

I See Palm Trees

I am writing tonight, sitting in front of our hotel room, in Palm Springs, CA. The swimming pool is ten feet ahead. On the other side of the pool a group of people are sitting, chatting, around a small gas powered fire pit.

Back home, there’s a dense fog advisory. Here, the stars are blazing.

Wow, it’s nice. But first, our trip.

You don’t get to Palm Springs by dark without leaving Connecticut before dawn. Helaine’s alarm was set for 2:00 AM. We pulled out of the driveway around 4:30 AM.

We’ve planned stays in both Palm Springs and Las Vegas, so we flew to Vegas first, rented a car and drove the nearly 300 miles to the Springs.

The fight itself was uneventful. Much of the Eastern United States was partly cloudy with a distinct haze that dulled the view from 36,000 feet. It was as if the Midwest had been rendered slightly out-of-focus.

Before takeoff, and a few more times during the flight, the pilot told us it as very windy in Las Vegas… and it was.

We made a very steep descent into McCarren Airport, probably to avoid the turbulence until the last minute or two. As I looked out the window, the right wing vibrated up and down like a guitar string after it had been plucked.

By the time we were rolling on the runway, the passengers had broken into a round of applause. I’ve always wondered if they can hear that in the cockpit?

The Las Vegas airport has a brand new rental car facility, a little farther from the terminal than were the cars were before, but containing all the rental agencies under one roof. Helaine found a great deal on the car, and since I had a “Dollar Express” card (though I hardly ever rent cars), we headed downstairs and were in our red Dodge Charger with Nevada plates in about ten minutes.

It’s strange to arrive in Las Vegas and immediately turn south, away from the Strip, but we did. I-15, the highway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, was loaded with cars as we left the city behind and were soon in what’s surely some of the ugliest territory in the united States.

The speed limit on I-15 is 70 mph, but I assumed I’d be doing 85-90 mph. Not with this traffic. I settled back in the pack and held on tight as the strong winds pushed the Charger back and forth in my lane (and sometimes out of it).

Our plan was to stop in Baker, CA, right at the edge of the Mojave Desert and not far from Death Valley, at The Made Greek Cafe. It’s a place LA-LV commuters have always known about, now made famous after a piece on Food Network.

The Mad Greek is about as tacky as you can get, but my souvlaki was pretty good and the strawberry shake was to die for.

There’s not much in Baker, other than the Greek’s. The main drag runs parallel to I-15. Down the block is the World’s Tallest Thermometer!

Back in the sixties, a radio preacher named Curtis Springer put Baker on the map. His headquarters were at Zzyzx Springs, but his mailing address was Box B, Baker, California.

From Baker, we headed through the desert to Barstow and then Victorville, where there’s both a Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans Drive!

We slowed down entering the Cajon Pass, a steeply descending and curving stretch of highway that gives truckers fits and made Helaine a little uneasy too.

On the radio, we’d heard about a small plane crashing in the center median of I-15 and sure enough, like some trophy deer head, the tail section (along with the last few digits of the plane’s registration number) sat on the edge of the breakdown lane, slowing traffic as everyone took a look.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got a bottle of water in Loma Linda as we continued on I-215. By San Bernadino, the flora had changed. It began to look like Southern California with tall palms spotted across the landscape. The ugly desert had turned into the pretty desert.

We took the ramp onto I-10, saw the beginning of the huge windmill farm that straddles the opening of the Coachella Valley, exited onto California 111 and pulled into Palm Springs by late afternoon.

I’ll write more about this hotel, the Desert Riviera, in a few days. Least it to say, for Helaine and me, this is quite a departure. The hotel is a very small property – only ten rooms built around a swimming pool.

It is run by a husband and wife and their sister. It has been lovingly restored to 50s retro chic.

The only downside right now is a problem shared by all the hotels in the Springs. There’s a motorcycle convention in town! I believe it’s a “I used to be wild, but now I ride on weekends because I’m a grownup,” group and not Hells Angels and Mongols.

On the other hand, every few minutes a throaty and noisy Harley rumbles it’s way down Palm Canyon. I’m tired enough to know I’ll sleep through it.

On To Palm Springs

Our week in Los Angeles was great. The three of us agreed we had a wonderful time. We saw friends, ate great food, visited fun places and (some of us) power shopped.

Now it was time to move our quarter ton of luggage to the next stop: Palm Springs. None of us had ever been here before, but we all like the desert.

Helaine had taken the time to print directions before we left Connecticut. Take a right from the hotel, down to Pico, then right toward Overland and I-10. But when we got to Pico there was a sign for I-10… but pointing left!

Who to believe? We chose the State of California. Bad choice.

The I-10 East signs lasted a few blocks and then… nothing. We continued to drive down Pico. Signs on stores changed from English to Spanish and then Korean. The buildings of Downtown LA grew larger. We were very lost.

When I came to a street I recognized, we turned. There was an overpass ahead, but not I-10. I decided to find a place to turn around and head back to Pico. And then I saw the sign: I-10 East.

The drive to Palm Springs is fairly easy. As you head east, Los Angeles County becomes less pretty. Then it’s bedroom town after bedroom town after bedroom town.

We stopped in West Covina to have lunch at “In-n-Out Burger.” “In-n-Out” is a West Coast chain of fast food burger joints. Steffie had seen one on some show, and she thought it would be fun.

“In-n-Out” has a very short menu. Burgers, fries, drinks – that’s about it.

I was immediately struck by how many people were behind the counter and in the kitchen. They seemed more labor intensive than McDonalds or Burger King.

My cheeseburger was excellent, the fries were light and good… and so, In-n-Out Burger now has a new fan.

We got back on I-10 and headed east. The land is fairly flat and filled with scrub type vegetation. We moved farther into the desert and the population began to thin out.

And then, I spotted the wind turbines.

I knew this place existed, but had never really thought about it. On I-10, just before the exit for Palm Springs, up sprang a huge ‘farm’ of wind turbines. Each was on a tall tower with a three bladed propeller. They seemed to be spinning slower than would be expected with the wind.

At San Gorgonio Pass, hot air rises over the Coachella Valley and forces cooler air through a pass between the San Bernadino and San Jacinto Mountains. Wind speeds there average 15-20 miles per hour (24.1-32.2 kmh), with the prime wind season occurring from March to September. There are over 4,000 wind turbines in this 70 square mile (182 square kilometer) area. Most of the land is privately owned, although the U.S. Bureau of Land Management administers a portion of it.

This is an unbelievable sight, and I will check to see if it’s possible to visit up close.

We’re in Palm Springs now, settled in our hotel. More on what we did last night and what we’ve got planned for today a little later.