Geology Cafe

The Water Cycle and Climate In California

The Water Cycle also represents processes that influence the shape of the earth's surface. The water cycle involves the interactions of the astmosthere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere are ongoing, continuously or intermittantly.
See climate data for cities in the Central Coast region.

See climate data for California's national parks

See the Water Cycle illustrated (USGS)

Learn about Erosion Processes

Learn about Floods
Click on images below for a larger view.
Relief, precipitation, and streams in California map

This map shows the annual precipitation in California. Note that wet areas correspond with high elevations, whereas drier climates are at lower elevations. Note the contrast between wetter Northern California and Sierra Nevata and the dry region of the desert regions of southeast California.

In general, the central Coastal Region of California has a "Mediterranean"-like climate, having cool, seasonably wet winters, and dry summers when rainfall may not happen for months starting in May to late October.

The desert region typically receives its scant rain in the winter months, but can have torrential thunderstorms in the late summer as southern flowing monsoonal airmasses move in from the southwest.

The Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range of northern California capture most of their precipitation during winter snow fall, but can receive rain any time a year when moist air moves in from the northern Pacific Basin region.

Fog over mountains Coastal Ranges: Fog builds up as moist air rises and cool over the Gabilan Range. The fog dissapates as the air descends and warms as it flows into San Juan Valley. The fog appears as a stationary cloud over the mountain ridgeline.
Fog in San Lorenzo valley Pacific Ocean and Coastal Ranges: Fog fills the San Lorenzo River valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stable regional airmasses allow for stratification of the atmosphere, in this case cool moist air from the ocean forms a fog layer (often called the marine layer) that hugs the coastlines and pours inward into coastal valleys. When atmospheric winds are stronger, the moisture laden are is pushed over the mountains.
Coastal Ranges: Adiobatic cloud over Loma Prieta Peak in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. An adiobatic cloud form where wind current of bearing moist air rise and are forced to condense into fog. When the air sinks on the east side of the peak, the fog vanishes, leaving a stationary cloud over the mountains.
Clouds over Mt. Diablo
Coastal Ranges: Solar heating drives convection in the atmosphere. This view from the peak of Mount Diablo (3806 feet elevation) shows puffy cumulus clouds building up from atmospheric heating of morning fog by the sun. Mount Diablo is an isolated high peak at the north end of the Diablo Range about 40 miles east of San Francisco.
Fremont Peak Coastal Ranges: Warm south facing slopes are warmer and dryer supports than north facing slopes. This view from Fremont Peak looking toward the fog over Monterey Bay. Fremont Peak, elevation 3015, is frequently isolated above a low "marine layer"of fog that sometimes fills the Salinas River Valley and San Juan Valley.
New Almaden-Quicksilver County Park Coastal Ranges: Valleys within the Coastal Ranges are dryer than surrounding mountains. This view is looking west from the flank of Loma Prieta Peak in the southern Santa Cruz Mountainstoward the foothills of Almaden-Quicksilver County Park south of San Jose. The high peaks of Mount Hamilton and Mount Sizer in the Diablow Range are in the distance east of the Santa Clara Valley.
Tumey Hills Great Valley: Sinking air in the Tumey Hills on the west side of the Great Valley (east of the Diablo Range). Stratification during stable atmospheric conditions, coastal humidity, and local evaporation and transpiration in the Great Valley contribute to the formation of the Tule Fog that sometimes blankets much of this great inland basin.
Aerial view of Sierra Nevada Mountains Sierra Nevada Mountains: The long, high mountain range is an atmospheric barrier! The atmospheric flow from the west is fored to rise to high elevations with cooler temperatures. This forces precipitation as summer thunderstorms and winter snow. The Sierra Nevada Mountains runs 400 miles (640 km) north-to-south, and is approximately 70 miles (110 km) across east-to-west. Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) is the highest point in the lower 48 United States
Death Valley Great Basin: Sinking air creates hot, dry conditions in the valleys of the Great Basin. Death Valley is in the "rain shadow"of the Sierra Nevada Range. The highest recorded temperature in North America was recored in Death Valley was 134 °F (57 °C) on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch.
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