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UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

August 12, 2010 - May Gray, June Gloom – But What Rhymes with July and August?

“We have an almost-rhyming term of endearment for that gray time of year just before summer explodes: June Gloom. But the low-lying clouds have endured well past their namesake month and, save for a smattering of sunup-to-sundown stunner days of pure beach weather, the fog has remained through much of July and early August, eating into our solar index ratings and shrinking the number of “sunny” hours to such a degree that many in our seaside hamlet are claiming the summer of 2010 to be perhaps the gloomiest of their lives. And, according to experts, they may be right. Enter Park Williams, a twenty-something with a PhD in geography from UCSB and an accidental Santa Barbara fog expert. Williams, who currently works as a researcher in the same department he earned his PhD from, has a particular interest in the intersection between climate and biogeography. That is to say, what grows where and why and how climate impacts this relationship.”

The above is quoted from an August 12 Independent article about Santa Barbara weather titled “Gloomiest Ever? This Summer Without Sun Is Not Normal” by Ethan Stewart who contacted Park regarding the matter: “In doing a bit of Google research for a story about fog I came upon your name and your research. Basically, I am trying to either prove or disprove the buzz around town these days that this summer's weather sucks.” Park provided the following material for the Independent article:

It turns out there is something to the complaints about the gloominess in town this year. June was much cloudier/foggier than average, and July was also cloudier/foggier than average, but not as extreme as June. So far August has been very heavy on the fog, but it is too early to tell how things will end up looking statistically. It looks like things may clear up a bit over the next few days, although this is not in the official weather-service forecast.

The data I use are hourly measurements of the height of cloud bottoms above Santa Barbara Airport. No matter the season, Santa Barbara Airport has clouds overhead about one third of the time. Along the coast of California, the clouds get much lower to the ground during summer months. It is the low height of the clouds that makes Santa Barbarans feel like the weather gets so gloomy during the summer.

So, in my data analysis, I only consider clouds that lie within 1,200 ft off the ground at Santa Barbara Airport. Considering only low clouds (called stratus clouds), this past June was the third gloomiest June among 52 Junes of data. July was the 18th gloomiest July among 52 Julys. June had stratus clouds 35% of the time and July had stratus clouds 26% of the time.

Looking over the course of the day, the foggiest times are always at night and in the early morning. Peoples' impression of gloominess, however, probably comes from what's going on during the day when the sun is supposed to be out. If we just consider morning hours between 6am and 12pm, we are on pace this summer to set a record for % of hours with stratus clouds. Stratus clouds were present above SBA 50% of the time between June 1 and August 8, while the 52-year average is just 30%.

The fog comes / on little cat feet. / It sits looking / over harbor and city / on silent haunches / and then moves on. Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), Chicago Poems (1916): "Fog"

Image 1 for article titled "May Gray, June Gloom – But What Rhymes with July and August?"
“Fog Slakes Redwoods’ Thirst” – Photo by Susanna Baumgart
Image 2 for article titled "May Gray, June Gloom – But What Rhymes with July and August?"
Park Williams. His dissertation (Summer 2009; Chris Still, Committee Chair) was titled “Tree Rings, Climate Variability, and Coastal Summer Stratus Clouds in the Western United States”
Image 3 for article titled "May Gray, June Gloom – But What Rhymes with July and August?"
Bar graph provided by Park that shows (white bars) average monthly cloud frequency and standard deviations, (grey bars) average monthly stratus frequency and standard deviations, and (asterisks) 2010 monthly frequencies. Below the bars are rankings of how each month in 2010 year has compared to the other 52 recorded months. Grey rankings represent stratus (low clouds) frequency.
Image 4 for article titled "May Gray, June Gloom – But What Rhymes with July and August?"
Santa Barbara experiences a cool Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csb) characteristic of coastal California. Because of the city's proximity to the ocean, onshore breezes significantly moderate temperatures, resulting in warmer winters and cooler summers. Photo: Santa Barbara, looking northeast from above Santa Barbara City College, towards the harbor (Wikipedia, Santa Barbara)
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