"Wind Chasing"

Brandt Maxwell, CCM - San Diego County, California

Published: February 3, 2023

A strong upper-level low pressure system was over California with very tight height and surface pressure gradients on the south side over San Diego County on 15 March 2021. High-resolution models were indicating potential wind gusts over 80 MPH over the mountains of southern California, and armed with a new Kestrel, I figured that would be the perfect time to go on a "wind chase". Therefore, I drove east to the San Diego County mountains that afternoon to seek out several locations that are typically very windy when an upper low moves by just to the north, with westerly flow combined with a bit of a stable layer above the mountain crests to help create a mountain wave.

And a mountain wave I indeed experienced, right near a mountain ridge a little bit north of Mt. Laguna!

Hurricane Ian Wind Swath
Figure 1: Measured wind speeds at Mt Laguna (HR002 sensor) during Mr. Brandt's "wind chase".
Source: University of Utah MesoWest

I recorded 39 MPH on the Kestrel at eye-level (at least that was the highest I could read as I was spending a lot of energy trying to keep the wind from knocking me over onto the wet cold pavement of a little parking area; it was difficult enough just opening the car door).

Of course, eye-level winds are substantially less than 20-foot (typical for Mesonet/RAWS measurements) or 10-meter (airport) winds (sometimes less than half, depending on the vegetation).

An official Mesonet site just a few hundred feet north of (and about 100-200 feet higher than) the location where I recorded that 39 MPH eye-level gust (HF002, Laguna Launch) reported a 93 MPH gust at almost the exact same time!

Add to that, temperatures were falling through the 20’s (this was at 5,600 feet above sea level), and there were snow pellets falling, and they definitely hit your face hard in that kind of wind, as well as locally dense fog which was producing some rime icing on vegetation!

That excursion was basically my "two to three hours of real winter" for that season!

I came back down the mountain, which was good timing as the precipitation changed to snow soon after that and started accumulating on the mountain roads, and in SoCal, the inconvenient chains are pretty much required whenever there is any accumulation of snow or ice on the roads.

While I was dressed heavily for the cold (including a heavy coat and stocking cap), I was still cold for several hours later, including stopping by my girlfriend's house back in San Diego afterwards and sitting in front of her space heater in order to warm up! The funny thing is that my car has heated seats (which are actually very efficient), but in the "heat" of the moment (no pun intended) during that excursion, I completely forgot about that! Even with the discomfort, I had a great experience that I'll always remember!