Friday, September 14, 2018

Fall in the Great Valley: A Colorful Treat


I admit that California's Great Valley is sometimes a drab place. In the late summer, the almonds are being harvested, and the process involves the production of vast amounts of dust. The air is stagnant, trapped between the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, with few winds to clear the skies. For weeks at a time, I won't be able to see either mountain range. And the sunsets are generally unremarkable affairs that are totally easy to ignore.

As the fall season approaches, things start to change a bit. For months we have been trapped beneath the subtropical belt of high pressure, a global circulation pattern that blocks rainstorms from reaching California. Little or no rain will fall from May to October. But when we reach September, the first tentative low pressure systems start to rotate out of the northwest, bringing no precipitation but the breezes start to clear out the dust and smoke. And the first cloud banks start to appear.
The sky was a real treat tonight. For the last few days we've had some high puffy cumulus clouds in the upper atmosphere, and on Thursday morning I spied the Coast Ranges and the Sierra Nevada as I climbed the outdoor stairs to my office. And tonight the clouds blazed forth in full glory as the sun sank deeper below the horizon. The white light was refracted through air layers on the horizon and broke up into shades of yellow, pink and red.

I know there are lots of places where spectacular sunsets are a way of life. The Oregon coast, Tucson, and Maui come to mind out of my own experiences. But there is something a little special about seeing a spectacular sunset like this in a place where they are precious and few.