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Today's Featured Story: California's Weather Has Something For Everyone

updated April 12, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Andrew Rosenthal

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From world-famous beaches to towering mountains, California can appeal to everyone. Extending along half of the U.S. West Coast, the Golden State has a wide array of weather. Visitors can see snow-topped vistas, broiling sandy deserts and everything in between during a California visit.

Three geographic zones play a large role in California`s weather. The Pacific Ocean is the state`s largest moisture source. There are also two sets of mountains - - the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada - - which each squeeze out some of the Pacific moisture that streams onshore. Southern California is the exception to this, where several smaller mountain ranges separate the beaches from the inland areas and deserts.

The Northern and Central Coast is the location for Californians who are fans of consistent weather year-round. From April to October, a strong westerly flow slides onshore into cities such as San Francisco and Eureka. This produces plenty of low clouds and morning fog, keeping temperatures in the 60s and lower 70s during the day. The rest of the year, the Pacific Ocean keeps coastal region unsettled. Pacific storms stream ashore every few days, delivering a punch of heavy rain. Temperatures remain mild thanks to all of the clouds, and wintertime temperatures remain in the middle 50s to 60s from Eureka to San Francisco.

For those who like lots of sunshine, the Central Valley runs north-to-south across California`s interior. Cities such as Sacramento, Fresno and Bakersfield, located near the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, enjoy mild winters but cloudless summers. November to April is when most of this region`s rain falls. Even then, days of sun are as common as rainy days, and highs in the 50s and 60s mean that temperatures rarely drop below 40 degrees. Because of this mild weather, the Central Valley is home to more than half of the produce grown in the U.S. On the flip side, Pacific moisture is blocked by the Coast Range in the summer, leaving the valley hot and dry. Triple-digit heat is common, while raindrops are a rarity.

If feeling the heat is your thing, southeastern California is your place. Here, some of the U.S.`s hottest temperatures can be found. Death Valley, the lowest point in the U.S., sees temperatures consistently climb as high as 115 degrees in the summer, while the dry and sunny Mojave Desert stretches across the southeastern interior. Not to be missed in this oven-hot region are oases such as Palm Springs, Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage, that dot the landscape with some of the best golfing conditions in the West.

Recreation is top-notch in the Sierra Nevada mountain range as well. Stretching along the eastern portions of northern and central California, the range is home to the infamous Donner Pass, as well as some of the snowiest spots and best skiing in the U.S. The mountains stretch as high as 14,000 feet above sea level, squeezing any remaining Pacific moisture out as snow throughout the winter months. This constant snow means a huge snowpack - nearly 65 feet of snow fell at 7,200-foot Echo Summit in the winter of 2010-2011- and ski resorts often remain open into June.

Wintertime isn`t the only time to visit the Sierra Nevada. High-pressure systems sit over the neighboring Great Basin, leading to plenty of sunshine for the mountain range. Lake Tahoe, along the California-Nevada border, contains towering mountain views and sparkling beaches. Adding to the pleasant weather is temperatures that climb into the 70s and 80s all summer long.

The "warm California sun" is at its magnificent best across southern California, where a series of small mountain ranges play a large role in the region`s climate. The immediate coast, from Ventura to San Diego, sees constant onshore summer Pacific breezes. While these breezes are vital to creating the world-famous surfing conditions, they also produce cool summer days that rarely climb above 80 degrees. A journey just 10 to 20 miles inland to Los Angeles or Anaheim leads to temperatures as much as 20 degrees higher.

While this will bring temperatures in the 90s and even low 100s, there is an even hotter time of year for southern California. Dry, hot northeasterly winds often develop around areas of high pressure during September and October, creating a pattern known as the "Santa Ana," after the vicious Mexican general. The winds flying over the nearby mountain ranges produce widespread triple-digit heat, along with winds that can gust to hurricane force.

The heat and wind lead to numerous annual wildfires, made worse by the fact that heavy rainstorms in southern California are a rarity. Even during the "rainy season" of winter, a week or two can pass with dry weather, while the summer is generally rain-free.

Another quirk of southern California is that, despite its coastal location and placement at latitudes similar to the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic, southern California is nearly immune to tropical storms. The cool California current that meanders along the West Coast pushes tropical storms and hurricanes well offshore. In fact, the last recorded storm to hit the Golden State was in 1939, near San Diego.

The Golden State is home to numerous different climates, bringing something for everyone to enjoy. From pristine surfing and boating conditions, to some of the world`s best snow, to sapphire-blue skies, California`s weather is a joy for everyone.


Story Image: WeatherBug User Josie Thompson snapped this image of a surfer near Huntington Beach, Calif.

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