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Sunny Fortuna!


This part of Coastal Northern California is considered a Temperate Rain Forest. Those Giant Redwoods have thrived here for thousands of years. Even though the area is at almost the same latitude as Chicago, the influence from the Pacific Ocean warms its winter temperatures and cools its summer temperatures.

Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the North Coast really has only two seasons, the rainy season from November to April and the dry season the rest of the year. A simple explanation for the dry season is that from spring through fall, a giant bubble of air called the North Pacific High parks itself off the coast, deflecting the weather around it and allowing the North Coast to bask in sunshine. This bubble moves away during the winter, its protection goes away, and the storms come ashore.

But what makes Fortuna's weather so unique is the combination of the prevailing northwest wind and the local topography. The Eel River Delta is actually a large flat shelf next to the ocean, surrounded by hills on the other three sides. Upwelling brings cold ocean water to the surface, which cools and humidifies the air above it. As the warm inland air rises, the cool and humid ocean air is pulled onshore to take its place. This air greatly influences the Eel River Delta temperature, causing fog and low temperatures. But Fortuna is located in a protected corner of the Delta, and...

Fortuna view
Fortuna circled, view towards the North. The prevailing wind is from the top left corner.
 - Image courtesy of Dr. William Bowen - California Geographical Survey.

...Fortuna is protected from that cold and persistent NW wind by that range of bluffs shown in the picture above. As well as raising the ambient temperature, the bluffs also offer protection from the ocean fogs so that residents can get a tan. This happy combination of factors allows the area to enjoy one of Northern California's finest horticultural climates. The sun shines through the thin fog overhead, and it's very much like living in a giant greenhouse.

Summer lows are in the fifties but highs seldom get into the eighties. There's little rain. November through April highs are in the mid fifties and sixties with lows in the upper thirties and forties, with around forty inches of rain spread over those months. There's an occasional early morning frost if the winter sky is clear, but it seldom freezes. The only time the weather gets radical is when the prevailing pattern changes and the winds come from inland for a few days.

The weather changes dramatically when you travel a few miles upriver or cross the hills surrounding the delta. It's not at all unusual for Fortuna to enjoy seventy degree temperatures while temperatures twenty miles inland are in the nineties or higher. Fortuna's winter temperatures remain well above freezing, yet skiing is available inland.

The last major snow in downtown Fortuna was probably in 1990, but the surrounding hills show snow every winter.

Because of the area's many microclimates, climate and rainfall can vary immensely. The town of Honeydew, located about twenty miles to the southwest and at the end of a box canyon facing the ocean, averages nearly four times as much precipitation as Fortuna, over twelve feet(!) of rainfall per year.

1981-2010 30 Year Average for Scotia, CA.
Data for Scotia (6 miles SSW) is smoothed using a 29 day running average.