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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Variability of Marine Fog Along the California Coast


Visibility in coastal regions has a significant impact on government, commercial, and private sector activities. The primary phenomenon significantly affecting visibility along the western United States coastal regions is fog. Fog is a natural hazard to boating, commercial shipping, and other waterway activities.

The West Coast of the United States has been identified as one of the major fog producing regions of the world. Present accuracy in predicting marine coastal fog and low stratus clouds is limited. Although most weather forecasting has improved with recent advances in atmospheric circulation models and satellite observations, there is relatively little operational guidance for the prediction of marine and coastal fog.

Currently the forecasting of visibility relies mainly on the availability of local observations and experience with local weather tendencies. National Weather Service and other forecasters typically focus on selected local conditions which usually presage fog formation and if a sufficient number are present, they will forecast possible fog for the region. However, this level of information and experience is not available in all coastal areas. Results in this study suggest that attention to the large-scale circulation in addition to local conditions may lead to increased skill and accuracy in extended range forecasts.

The large-scale structure and interannual variability of fog have not been well described because data has been unavailable and a large volume of data is required. In the present analysis, several years of observations from a set of coastal weather stations and a set of comprehensive marine weather reports (primarily ships) is used to examine large-scale processes and local conditions which affect fog formation. A discussion of fog observation criteria is given. In addition, evidence is provided by a collection of observations of hours of fog-horn operations at several coastal sites over 15 years, starting in 1950.

The relationship between local and large-scale conditions, and fog and stratus formation may yield improved predictability of fog. This study indicates that large-scale conditions, especially regional-hemispheric circulation, are a vital component of both high and low fog occurrences; moreover, atmospheric circulation in the Eastern North Pacific Ocean and on the West Coast may contribute to improved forecasts for the development and persistence of fog.

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