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Seasonal changes on the coast are a story of winds that set the stage for the Pacific, and from the Pacific, large stage-sets across the rest of the world.

True to predictions from NOAA, La Nina is swirling her cape along the Pacific equator from Peru to Indonesia. Stronger “than normal” winds traveling west are drawing up cold deep water, with a set of spins to far-off places. As of January 5th, NOAA predicts a moderate to weak La Nina.(

For us on the central coast, instead of a wetter winter, we are experiencing a dry winter, even a drought, with two months to go of winter. Since the recognition of the El Nino/ La Nina pattern, or ENSO in the 1930s, researchers have plugged historical records into map zones of “typical” geographic patterns. We seem to be in a zone between a wet US north and a dry south for the La Nina phase (

Of course we could still get a pineapple express train of storms from “out there,” it’s not over yet. Coins in your pocket are still useful things for predictions. Toss one if you don’t believe me.

So what fun things can you do in a coolish drought on the coast? You can use much of the play list from your summer pages, the simplest being, go to the water! For anglers, rockfish and lingcod are off limits until May 1 when fishing from boats, but OK from shore. Perch, jacksmelt, and sand dabs are legal and plentiful fishing from boat or from shore ( For boaters, kayakers, and the like, it’s a great and comfortable time to get out on the water—there are no fierce winds to put up with or struggle against. Of course, the opinions of sail boaters will be the opposite. Watch all this change almost on command on March 1, when the spring winds begin. It might be March 2, but it’s almost like clockwork.

What storms and swell we have had so far has already layered in a new carpet of sand in the area between Steamer Lane and the Harbor. When there is a swell, the waves are uniform along the low tide. In the absence of a swell and spring winds, the near shore depths are often still. On many days, the visibility is 15-20 feet in the water.

I am always amazed how little snorkeling and scuba diving has caught on at this northern end of Monterey Bay. The cramp of habit is for surfboards. It’s a type-cast. A person minus a surfboard wearing a face mask and snorkel and fins sticks out like a gooney bird on a Ferris wheel at Coney Island. Cowell’s Beach and Steamer Lane are a great place to explore, with sandy bottom and rocks and kelp forest. Most days, as far as I can see, I’m the only one that has discovered this, and I’m not going to tell anybody.

Worse, I’ve always been tempted to break the other half of the mold and go into the water at the Monterey breakwater with a surfboard. All the divers will go cross-eyed from squinting and consternation. I expect the Coast Guard, Fish and Game, and the rest to be called out for the gooney bird there too.

And then there is always simple beach combing at low tide. Seashell jewels gleam in the exposed sands. A while ago I saw an obviously visiting dad with two daughters, aged 10 or so in tow along the beach. One of the girls was clearly fascinated by what she was discovering; her eyes and nose were glued to her footsteps. She suddenly stooped and scooped up some thing. “Dad,” she called out, “look!” Her sort of overweight slightly bored daddy glanced back and croaked out, “sand dollar,” without breaking stride or a sweat.

She looked at her find with dawning amazement that ringed loudly enough to hear it. She clutched both hands over her prize and pressed it to her chest, and walked on scanning the sand earnestly--in total amazement that here at the beach there could be a whole dollar growing in the sand in the shapes of circle with a star, and that if you looked very carefully, watching each thing, you could find some...
Last updated: 2/1/2012 3:56:09 PM