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Why the June gloom?

When it comes to sunshine, San Diego is overrated. Here's why we get that dreaded marine layer.

By Mike Stetz

Sunshine and San Diego: Why, the two seemingly go together like peanut butter and jelly. Love and marriage. The Chargers and underachieving. 

Sunshine is so associated with San Diego that the word is used in countless business names. Here, you can find Sunshine Company Saloon, Sunshine Market, Sunshine Painting and even Sunshine Dentistry. 

But while San Diego is sunny, it’s not as sunny as many other cities. 

When it comes to the sunniest U.S. cities, San Diego is not in the top 10. It is not even in the top 20. 

According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) the city ranks 30th, tied with a few other cities when it comes to sunshine. On average, the sun shines 68 percent of the time. Yuma, Ariz., with the sun shining 90 percent of the time, is first.

City-Data.com did a ranking of the 101 sunniest U.S. cities with populations greater than 50,000. San Diego did not even make the list.

It finished eighth when it came to the sunniest cities with a population of a million or more — according to the website Current Results. The number of clear days only totaled 146. 

And clear days at this time of the year are more rare than the rest of the year. San Diego sees a yearly phenomenon in which a marine layer has a tendency to rest over the coast for long periods of the days in the months of May and June. Locals call those months May Gray and June Gloom.

And for good reason. The two are the least sunny months of the year in San Diego. June averages 58 percent sunshine while May averages 59 percent, according to the NCDC.

Bismarck, N.D., is sunnier than San Diego in May. It’s at 61 percent. Buffalo, N.Y., is sunnier in June, with the sun shining 65 percent of the time, NCDC statistics show.

And that marine layer, if certain weather conditions exist, can continue into July and even August, said Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. Our ocean water travels here from the north, near Alaska, and that means it’s cold, he said. When there’s high pressure in the atmosphere — and it’s highest in late spring and early summer — the mix of the two causes a marine layer to form.

When we get deeper into summer, the ocean temperature heats up and the high pressure eases, creating a less dense marine layer. And sunnier days result.

The good news? If we had no ocean next to us acting as a coolant, we’d be as hot as Palm Springs, Tardy notes. It’s why our temperature climate is near perfect. Even in August, the average high is just 77 degrees. 

So why is the connection between sunshine and San Diego so strong? Is it marketing? Take the San Diego Tourism Authority’s logo. It has a sun on it. And the photographs adorning the website? They, of course, are all sun-splashed. Looking for a bargain? Check out the authority’s “SUNsational” deals. 

And when it comes to our beaches, it says: “If San Diego is known for one thing, it would be for our gorgeous beaches. With 70 miles of pristine coastline, year-around sunshine and mild temperatures, you can enjoy the surf and sand almost any day of the year.”

Year-around sunshine?

Marketing may indeed play a role in leading people to believe San Diego is always bathed in sunshine. George (Joe) Belch, professor and chair for the department of marketing at San Diego State University, noted, in an email response, that much of the tourism marketing focuses on sunny beaches “and I think most people tend to view the two as going together, even though that is not really true here.” 

One point to note here is that San Diego’s weather is measured at Lindbergh Field, and not an inland site, which is spared the marine layer and is significantly sunnier. So it could be warm and sunny at the San Diego Zoo, but cold and cloudy at the beach — even though the two are are not far apart. 

“It is interesting that many out of town people think we have warm, sunny beach weather all the time,” Belch said. “I have to remind friends and relatives who want to visit that if they are coming in May or June they better bring a sweat shirt.”

So is the San Diego Tourism Authority practicing unfair marketing techniques? Can tourists sue us if they get here and the coast is socked in? The San Diego Tourism Authority declined to comment, so we, um, remain in the dark. 

Not only do we trail cities such as Denver in sunshine, our sunshine isn’t cheap either. Justin Holman, a geographer who authors a blog called Geographical Perspectives, http://www.justinholman.com, compared what a day of sunshine costs in different sunny cities in the nation, using housing costs as a factor.

The result? Abilene, Texas, was first. It gets 70 percent sunshine and the median home value is $64,500. So it cost $252.45 for a sunny day. Flagstaff, Ariz., was about in the middle of his survey. The sun beats down 78 percent of the time and the median home price is $213,000, for a daily sunshine cost of $749.

And San Diego? It ranked 24th. With sunshine raining down 68 percent of the time and the median home price at $552,000, a day of sunshine costs us….$2,224.01.

Not counting sunscreen.

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Jack Crittenden
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Our City San Diego