Q&A: A forecaster who pooh-poohs El Nino

Name: Mike Pechner
Age: 69
City: Cordelia
Position: Founder, Golden West Meteorology

J.:
You’re a longtime meteorologist, reporting on weather for KCBS Radio and a handful of television stations. So rain is in the forecast, then it never shows up, then it rains for four days. What’s the deal with El Niño?

Mike Pechner: There’s been way too much hype about it by the radio and TV folks. What has transpired so far this winter is a relatively normal winter weather pattern for the Bay Area, something we haven’t had for the past four years.
What about all the rain this month?

El Niño typically is highlighted by a storm of a subtropical nature that comes from the southwest. The storm March 5 and 6 had those qualities, and it also had cold air behind it, which meant significant snow in the Sierra Nevada. Skiers were doing handstands across the freeway!

Mike Pechner

Did the rain have any effect on the drought?  

Despite all the important rain we got in November, December and January, some areas were still behind on total rainfall. However, the rain March 5 and 6 turned all that around, and we should be above normal again for this season.
You’re a fifth-generation resident of the Bay Area, with a degree in environmental studies and geography from San Francisco State. When did you get interested in weather, and what’s your favorite weather?

One day in January of 1957, when I was 10, I was walking to school in Novato when it snowed. My folks had told me it never snows in Novato, so that got my interest. My favorite weather is cold and snowy.
Golden West Meteorology, your consulting firm, provides forecasts for media companies, the transportation industry and the film industry. How do you help people making movies?

If it’s foggy or rainy or windy, they can’t film. Any number of things cause them grief.
You also provide forensic meteorology. What is that?

I help with lawsuits and insurance claims. I just finished testifying in a case in Modesto where a woman slipped and fell on ice after a hotel left a sprinkler on overnight.
How does the presence of the bay affect our weather?

Water does have a moderating effect on our climate, but you also have to remember that we’ve filled in about 50 percent of the bay’s historic expanse, going back to the Gold Rush days, so we have less water now. We changed our climate by filling in the bay.
Sounds interesting. Can you elaborate?

The South Bay is much warmer and dryer, and the North Bay has lost some wetlands and marshes, and that has affected our weather over the long term. And of course climate change continues, but it’s tough to say what the long term will be. Parts of the Bay Area are warmer than normal, but we really haven’t gone off the charts, partly because of the moderating effects of the bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Talk a bit about our “Mediterranean” climate.

Over 100 years ago, Wladimir Köppen, a German climatologist, looked at the world and classified all of the climates. Our climate — warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters — is one of the rarest, existing here, on the coast of Chile, in the Middle East around Israel, and also on one spot on the African coast.
A member of Congregation B’nai Israel in Vallejo, you are very active in the community: You work with the Giants Community Fund, you’re a “ball dude” for the Giants, and you inform California fire departments about weather forecasts. You’re a volunteer firefighter, and you helped restore a hotel in the Tenderloin. Does being  Jewish contribute to your interest in community service?

Definitely. My upbringing has influenced a lot of mitzvahs. But my wife says I need to volunteer more at home.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to sueb@jweekly.com.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.