The latest in a series of cold Gulf of Alaska lows moved into California early Monday morning. Showers and thunderstorms popped up all over the San Joaquin Valley by the noontime hour, with the strongest extending from NE Merced County to SW Fresno County/Kings County. At 1400, I left Turlock to get a look at these storms.
My plan was to take I-5 out of Patterson in Stanislaus County, then drive southbound along the west side of the valley, where I would have a good panoramic view of the storms to my east. If I saw a cell I wanted to get a closer look at, I would have turned off at the nearest exit and head east. If the storms failed to materialize, I planned to turn left at Hwy 198, head east on Hwy 198 to Hwy 99, then take Hwy 99 back to Turlock.
The drive down I-5 wasn't anything too exciting - just driving in and out of scattered showers with sunny breaks in between. The cells I had gone out to see had weakened - I heard about 4 crackles on the AM radio between 1400 and 1600. It wasn't until I got into southwestern Fresno County that things started to look promising. The news radio station out of Fresno I was listening to was reporting heavy showers in SW Fresno County and SW and NW Tulare County. A few minutes later, I passed by a sign that said "CAUTION. HEAVY RAIN AHEAD. SLOW DOWN." But the sky straight ahead didn't look too dark. Then I looked east and saw what they were talking about - a fairly large, disorganized area of stratiform-type precip. At the southern tip of this area (around Lemoore) was a well-developed Cb, with a flanking line of Cu extending to the SW towards Avenal and Kettleman City. By this time I was close to the intersection of I-5 and Hwy 198. Hwy 198 led directly towards this developing storm, so I turned left there and headed towards Lemoore.
Once I was eastbound on Hwy 198, the storm began to take off. The first CG strike hit at 1610. White streamers began descending from the Cb. Most of the hail appeared to be falling north of the highway, so it looked I would just miss the hailshaft. Less than a mile west of Lemoore Naval Air Station (NLC), I got into some 1/4 to 1/2 inch hail - with a few stones as large as 5/8 inch. At one point there was just enough hail to cover the road - but nothing like what I saw SE of Merced on Mar 28. I was out of the hailshaft by the time I was east of NLC.
At 1630, a wall cloud briefly developed SW of Lemoore near Stratford. I didn't observe any rotation with this wall cloud. CG activity with this storm rapidly decreased as it passed over Lemoore, and ceased by the time it got to Hanford. I stayed at the corner of 19th Ave and Idaho Rd from 1630 to 1715 to watch the storm as the core passed just to my north and rained itself out. I did have some brief 1/8 inch hail at this location around 1635, however. After that, I took Hwy 198 back to Hwy 99, then headed home.
There was one highlight on my trip back. In SE Merced County, I spotted a non-severe but photogenic squall line at 1900. There was a spectacular blue-violet shelf cloud which appeared to be right over Merced - but the heart of the storm appeared to be to the N and NE off towards Lake Yosemite. Still, I encountered some heavy rain just SE of Merced - but no hail or gusty winds. I didn't see any lightning with this storm - nor hear any crackles on the radio.
After getting home, I went onto CompuServe and the Internet to check reports. I got home too late to get the METARs and SPECIs for NLC between 23z-00z. If anyone has these observations, I'd be most appreciative to see them.
The cold weather is getting on a lot of people's nerves here, but as long as it comes with some good t'storms, I have no gripes. At least we're not getting the low stratus my parents have been getting in TX the past couple of days. :-)