People like to compare San Francisco to Los Angeles -- the people, the culture, the freeways, and the food. Here’s the breakdown when it comes to weather, month by month.
I like January better in Los Angeles, by far. While it’s raining and dreary in San Francisco, the So Cal skies are blue, the air is clean, and it’s the best time to hike and be outside. It rained on the January 1st Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade only twice in sixty years -- once in 1955 and in 2006.
I like February and March better in San Francisco. While it’s raining in both places, in Los Angeles it’s flooding. People wonder why there are so many corner street dips and steep curbs on Los Angeles streets and boulevards; it’s because these roadways are designed to flood. When you live in a flat sea of cement you must channel the water somehow.
Although I don’t like the flooding, I am crossing my fingers that this coming winter there will be a deluge nonetheless. We need the water. There’s a budding El Nino ocean current pattern looming in South America, and the State and city governments are banking on it -- that’s why there hasn’t been rigid water rationing yet and lawns are still green in Southern California. Everyone is hoping that this is just a five-year drought and not a 50 or 500-year drought, like the West has had in the past.
I also hope that if there’s tremendous rain this winter that some of it stays in the mountains as snow and not all of it flows down into the storm drains and into the Santa Monica Bay.
I like April and May equally in both cities. It’s cool and blustery in San Francisco, with a crisp breeze and clouds that keep moving. It’s even warm sometimes. You need a jacket, but it’s springtime and you feel alive. In Los Angeles the rain has stopped, but it’s not too hot yet. The flowers are out, and you can even go to the beach. It’s not warm enough to swim, but you can surf in a wetsuit. Just stay clear of the polluted runoff.
June is a split between the two cities -- for the first half of June, it’s great in San Francisco, but then the fog comes. The Central Valley is heating up, and as the hot air rises, new air must move in to replace it, and that new air comes rushing in through the Golden Gate, the one opening on the coast where the air can flow unimpeded. The ocean water in the south flowing Colombia current is still cold, and therefore so is the damp air above it. When that air gets drawn in through the Golden Gate, it hits slightly warmer and drier land and instantly condenses into wet fast moving fog.
The same thing happens in Los Angeles, but the air and the water are warmer and the air moves slower. Instead of fast moving cold fog, it’s the warm and slow moving “marine layer,” or “June gloom.” It never feels gloomy to me in Los Angeles, though. It’s cozy and warm and sheltering compared to the weather in San Francisco. I feel nostalgic, but not damp.
July is better in Los Angeles because the June gloom is gone and the hot weather is here. It’s July 4th parades, pools, barbecues, baking in the sun, and driving around with the windows down listening to the game on the car radio. Independence Day fireworks in San Francisco are a bust half the time, with the shells just lighting up the fog clouds in different shades of yellow, orange and red. I also remember too many times hovering over a back patio grill shivering in a down parka while trying to light briquettes.
June gloom in Los Angeles is now continuing into July, however, which is scaring me. That means that although the coastal ocean temperatures are rising, the interior valleys are hot and getting hotter, and moist air is still getting sucked ashore. Eventually the two temperature zones will even out more, which means August, may be blistering.
In which city is August better? That’s a toss-up. While it’s becoming brutally hot in Los Angeles, the fog in San Francisco is still damp, fast and cold. In the City, there are times during the day when the fog lets up and the sun shines bright, and August mornings in L.A. are pristine. But you don’t want to be walking the streets in Los Angeles between 11 and 4 in August. You’ll fry.
However, you can sit outside until 11 p.m. without a jacket and you won’t get eaten by bugs. Meanwhile, no one’s socializing outside on the patio deck in San Francisco after the evening fog rolls in, not unless they’re wearing a parka.
September is better in San Francisco, unless you’re a kid going back to school. While it’s often 110 in Los Angeles in the week after Labor Day, in San Francisco, it’s pleasant Indian summer. It’s 80 degrees and the weather is perfect. There’s no wind, because the interior valleys have cooled off and there’s no air being sucked east, but the coast is still warm and toasty. Everything is even, west to east. If you’re a kid who’s been in the fog all summer, though, it’s tough to go back to school in San Francisco during the hottest weather of the year. You feel gypped.
October is better in Los Angeles. It’s still warm, and you can trick-or-treat on Halloween night in a flimsy costume, while in San Francisco the kids are resenting their parents who insist they need a sweater over that Superman suit.
November is better in Los Angeles. The autumn is cool but not cold, and you can take a walk or a hike on Thanksgiving Day. December is better in San Francisco. It’s cold enough that it feels like Christmas, while in Los Angeles it can be 80 degrees in the sun and 40 degrees in the shade, making you feel schizophrenic as you walk down the street.
The mild discomfort the weather creates in both cities is compounded by a simple problem that both cities share -- poor building insulation. In San Francisco you’re cranking up the heat, and in Los Angeles you’re cranking up the air-conditioning, and both the heat and the cold exit through the flimsy walls. But there are only a few tough months to get through, so we tend to forget until the energy bill comes after those bad months. That’s why the builders here have never laid it on thick, like you must in the Midwest. But as the bills rise higher, that may change.
That’s because (despite my grading system) the weather seems to be changing in both places. April and May in San Francisco feel warmer and less windy -- more like Los Angeles did a few decades back. It feels great, but it also makes me wonder if something has changed. The 110 degree Septembers in Southern California are becoming as frequent as in Arizona, with the Cal Fire trucks zooming into the flaming hills as the hot Santa Ana winds howl down from the high desert, fanning the flames. That’s when we make national news.
Here in Los Angeles I am enjoying July, I am hopeful about August, but I am worried about September. I hope we make it through October, without burning, and I pray that the El Nino comes and early and rains on the Rose Bowl Parade, and it keeps raining, flooding the streets but dumping snow in the mountains and re-filling our empty reservoirs. And I hope I’m wrong about the weather changing.
In the meantime I’ll conserve water and drive with the windows down, and try not to think about it too much. We’ll see how long that lasts.