P80218Between here and Hawaii, there is a whole lot of water. Between Hawaii and Australia, there is a whole lot more. Everywhere to the west and southwest of California, there is a lot of water. Unfortunately, none of this huge volume of water is useful for gardening. It is saline. It would kill plants.

Of course this is not just any water. It is the Pacific Ocean. Although the water within it is useless directly, it is what feeds the weather that provides the precipitation that becomes the water that makes gardening and everything else possible. Rain fills local aquifers. Snow in the Sierra Nevada fills reservoirs as it melts.

The weather that the Pacific Ocean feeds gets shared over a very large area. Weather that does not make rain here might make rain or snow in Nevada, or Oklahoma, or really anywhere the weather wants to go to. In fact all the oceans all over the world cooperate to make climate and weather what it is.

What is so special about the Pacific Ocean being right here off the coast is that it moderates our climate and weather. Places like Nevada and Oklahoma that are not on the coast get water from the Pacific Ocean because weather is mobilized. The moderating effect of all that saline water is not. It stays right here in coastal regions.

Water has a high specific heat. That means that it takes a lot of energy to change the temperature of water. Saline water has an even higher specific heat. The temperature of the Pacific Ocean therefore changes very slowly and very minimally.

This inhibits extremes of temperature in the air above all that saline water. Small batches of extremely cold weather tends to collect a bit of heat energy as they pass over the Pacific Ocean. Weather coming in over so much saline water can not get extremely hot without the water absorbing at least some of all that heat energy. Therefore, coastal weather is rarely extremely cold or extremely hot. Temperatures can be more pronounced a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, especially when the weather comes from inland. Farther inland cold and heat can get significantly more extreme.

A lack of cold weather in winter limits what can be grown here. Plants that require a good chill are not satisfied with our pathetic winters. That is why some bulbs that do well as perennials farther inland bloom only once here, and why some varieties of apple that perform well in central Washington are not grown here.

However, a lack of hard frost allows us to grow many plants that can not be grown where winters are more severe. Even if bougainvillea gets frosted every few years or so, it typically recovers. Avocados and lemons are likewise quite happy here. The weather may seem to be boring, but it certainly has its advantages.

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17 thoughts on “The Coast Is Clear

  1. Weather is not boring at all. Here on the Gulf Coast, we are also subject to the whims of the water (which usually keeps us warm) and the direction the wind blows. We get your storms, Canada’s frigid cold, Mexican smoke when fields are burned, hurricanes that start in Africa and most intriguing, dust from the Sahara Desert. Our weather can change drastically day to day.

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  2. Our weather in SoCal is also determined by wind directions, and even by the weather in the polar regions. We had a lovely warm day yesterday when the winds turned and came from the high desert — today it’s cooler as those winds are turning and coming from the north.

    The water temperature does moderate our climate — sometimes to our disadvantage (as in la nina years, and we are now back into severe drought conditions. Fortunately, there is now a working desalination plant in Santa Barbara, and one in Carlsbad, to help make that saline water even more useful to those of us who love the coastal climate.

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      1. Interestingly, I saw this on twitter this evening and thought you would enjoy seeing it — this is the palm tree farm along the Rincon, after the Thomas Fire!

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      2. Thank you for forwarding that. They certainly grow a lot of those curved palms. I would not think that there is much market for so many at the same angle; but that might be why they have been there for so long. The article mentions that most will not recover, which makes me wonder what other palms or plants they grow. Perhaps the king palms which are not pictured will not recover.

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      3. I’ve driven past that farm many times — I think most of their palms did not survive, although there were a few still looking (from the freeway) as if they were not burned. The palms were less critical to save than the houses and other structures nearby!

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      4. Yes, of course. However, all the palms I know survive fire without any problems. The desert fan palm actually collects long beards to burn off the competition in their natural native groves near Palm Springs. Once the foliage burns off, they regenerate new foliage out the top. The trunks are not combustible.

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      5. These palms were not in an area that burned intensely. There was not much fuel in direct proximity to them. Otherwise, the petioles would have been incinerated. I have never known a palm to be killed by fire. The palms that can be killed are not the sort that I work with. I do not remember all the specie of palms that the nursery grew. If they had bamboo palms, raphis palms or even king palms, they would have burned to death.

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  3. I don’t find weather boring either, except that recently there’s been no change in it….hot, dry. Rain is a very exciting event and so would snow be, if it ever happened here, which it once used to.

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  4. We may not have the Pacific but we have Lake Michigan. Don’t scoff. It is not as grand as your ocean but it is big enough to moderate our climate, though I wouldn’t complain if it moderated the climate a bit more. Plus you can drink the water from Lake Michigan.

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