What constitutes "heavy rain" in LA?

By: Peejster , 10:25 PM GMT on February 27, 2014

This morning, a co-worker of mine, who has been in LA for the last three or four years as a graduate student, observed that we got "a lot" of rain last night.

Which I guess makes sense if you've only been here for three or four years, and thus only able to observe drought conditions.

This reminded me of a somewhat similar situation in February 1992 - where, like today, several prior years of drought had charmed Southlanders into a blithe ignorance of what winter rainstorms can do around here.

Global forecasters had already predicted that the 1991-92 winter season would be dominated by El Niño. What that meant was lost on those of us who were either too young or too recently-arrived to LA to remember the winter of 1982-83.

So, there's no introduction like a big, splashy introduction.

I don't know exactly why I stayed home on the 10th, although I do remember being glad that I did. (It was a good day to learn why the streets in northern Pasadena are so heavily crowned.) Even though I avoid TV during the day, I had the TV on non-stop from about mid-morning as the local stations scrambled into STORM WATCH mode: intense rain graphics, intense lettering, INTENSE SOUNDTRACK. (And the reportage, too, must rise to the occasion.)

But this was a little different, because the volume of rain we got in such a short time really demonstrated how LA's infrastructure is not built for any kind of precipitation. But especially not for the kinds of rain other US cities have been built to accommodate.

Here's what happens: sometime during this coverage, news desk cuts to news copter, which is over what a few hours before was a huge recreation area, but has now become a lake. A LAKE, with cars and trucks submerged and hapless picnickers stranded atop them. Rescuers aboard other helicopters are plucking the surprised and dismayed from car roofs, trees, anything that might still be above the water line. It's genuinely dangerous, and from the safe remove of a living room in Pasadena, it's actually a little funny. At least, funny as long as everyone survives.

But wait... this just in to the news desk: the full name of the recreation area is the Sepulveda Flood Control Basin.

So that wasn't a freak flood. The water went exactly where it was supposed to. Meaning: when measurable rain is in the forecast, it's probably not the best idea to plan a jaunt in the Sepulveda Basin.

But even now I'm not willing to write off the multiple parkgoers being fished out of the basin as a bunch of LA-type airheads. 

Because it's this simple: sometimes the weather in LA is so awesome for so long that we forget that our Mediterranean climate includes rain, and sometimes that rain comes all at once.

Now that we've had a couple of decent storms this month, we should be ready for the downpour this weekend's storm system should bring, shouldn't we?

I mean, we should, right?

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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About Peejster

Longstanding transplant. Graduate student. Annoying meteorology geek since way, way back.

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Elevation: 97 ft
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