Point Loma Blamed for Low Rain Readings at San Diego Airport

by on March 3, 2023 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

By Gary Robbins / San Diego Union-Tribune / March 1, 2023

Well, it happened again.

San Diego International Airport received far less rain during this week’s storm than many nearby areas.

Through 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the airport recorded 0.22 inches of rain. Fashion Valley reported 0.27 inches, National City got 0.65 inches and Kearny Mesa logged 0.60 inches.

This often happens when a storm passes through. Our readers ask for an explanation nearly as often. Fortunately, we have one.

The National Weather Service says that most of our storms arrive from the northwest. They generally come ashore in the Camp Pendleton and Oceanside areas and slide down the coast. Lots of their moisture ends up hitting a wall known as Point Loma, a long peninsula that rises to 422 feet at its highest point. The wall blocks some rain from reaching the airport.

Said another way, the airport sits in a “rain shadow.”

Storms also sometimes flow into the region from the southwest, taking a more direct angle at San Diego. That happened last week when an atmospheric river from the subtropics traveled to Southern California. The weather service predicted that the system would clobber the San Diego area. But it unexpectedly took a different track.

These storms are somewhat like hurricanes — they often change direction at the last minute.

Those kinds of shifts can carry heavy rain directly across the airport area. Just ask singer Tony Bennett. In May 2015 a big storm cell out of the southwest exploded over the airport, dropping 1.57 inches of rain between 7:53 p.m. and 8:42 p.m. A lot of the rain swirled into Humphries by the Bay, the outdoor venue on Shelter Island where Bennett was performing.

At 8:27 p.m., people’s cellphones carried an alert saying that a flash flood watch had gone into effect. Bennett, who was 88 at the time, shrugged it off and began singing ‘‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

The airport was been the official weather reporting site for San Diego since 1940. Some readers have suggested that it be moved to a different location, away from the shadow of Point Loma. That’s not going to happen. Such weather stations are vitally important to an airport’s ability to safely control traffic.

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