Published Tuesday, August 28, 2001 in the San Jose Mercury News


State's energy crisis powers interest in wind generators

Special to the Mercury News

With power problems dominating the headlines, the quest for additional sources of electricity has been jump-started. In the Bay Area, we feel one of those potential energy generators almost every afternoon -- it's the wind, a free and completely renewable resource.

The California Energy Commission estimates that only about 1.5 percent of the state's electricity production comes from wind power. Most energy is derived from non-renewable sources, such as natural gas.

The bulk of California's wind power comes from turbines that catch the wind and turn it into electricity at Altamont Pass east of the Bay Area, in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles and at San Gorgonio Pass east of Los Angeles. These regions have more than 13,000 turbines and account for 96 percent of the state's wind-generated electricity.

In a recent issue of the journal Science, Stanford professors Mark Jacobson and Gilbert Masters, both with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, estimate that as much as 10 percent of the state's electrical capacity could come from the wind with the addition of 5,000 newer and more efficient wind turbines.

California is a prime area for the generation of wind energy because three geographical factors. The state is in the middle latitudes, between 30 and 60 degrees north, where the circulation of winds around the Earth are generally from the west and of moderate velocity. Secondly, the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean create an area of high pressure, generating consistent winds. And, finally, the passes between coastal and interior regions of the state channel wind flows, resulting in areas with a fairly consistent flow of moderate to strong winds.


THE BAY AREA PERFECT CLIMATE INDEX: After a recent column about my Camelot Climate Index ( ), I received a number of letters from readers desiring information about their local city's ranking. However, most of the Bay Area falls within a very narrow range of good weather, given the criteria I used for my Camelot Index. Consequently, I am endeavoring to develop a Bay Area Perfect Climate Index, but I need your help.

What do you consider a perfect climate for the Bay Area? No days over 90 degrees? No freezing temperatures? No fog? Lots of fog? Ask your family, friends and co-workers what they think is an ideal climate. Send comments and suggestions, along with your name and city, to .


Q  I just read a story about Popsicles, which said the first Popsicle was made when a boy left a cup of soda on a porch in San Francisco in 1905 and it froze overnight. I lived in San Francisco most of my life, since 1935, and we had some pretty yucky weather, but freezing? Is this fact or fiction? M.G. - Burleson, Texas

A  The basic elements of this story have been well documented. But your recollection about San Francisco seldom freezing is also correct.

In the 126 years that temperature records have been kept in the city, it has only been below 32 degrees officially on 10 occasions. However, these readings historically have been taken at rooftop locations, and the ground temperature can sometimes be as much as 5 degrees cooler.

In 1905, an 11-year-old named Frank Epperson left his drink of soda water and flavored powder outside with the stirring stick still in it. Overnight, there were record low temperatures, and in the morning he found frozen soda water with a stick in the middle. Eighteen years later, Frank remembered his mistake and patented his frozen treat in seven different flavors. And 3 billion frozen desserts later, that's most of the story.

But not everyone agrees with this version. According to other sources, Epperson grew up in Oakland, where it is usually colder than San Francisco. This is supported by weather records that show the coldest 1905 temperature in San Francisco was 39 degrees, but in Oakland there were sub-freezing readings on at least three occasions.

Just last week, I happened to be in the area around Islamabad, Pakistan, during a record rainstorm in the city. As I was reading your recent article about rain in a town of India this morning, I thought I should pass a description on to you. It may not be a world record, but it was interesting to see 25 inches of rain in six to eight hours. Faheem Dani - San Jose

It is interesting and very wet -- equivalent to 172 percent of San Jose's average annual rainfall. I could not locate a world rainfall record for a six-hour period, but the one-hour record is a phenomenal 12 inches under a thunderstorm in Holt, Mo., and the 12-hour record is a soggy 53 inches on La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean.

Jan Null, founder of Golden Gate Weather Services and Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University, is a retired lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. Send questions to him c/o Weather Corner, San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190. You also can telephone questions at (510) 657-2246, fax them to (510) 315-3015 or e-mail them to .