The Impact of the 1939 Long Beach Tropical Storm

Long Beach Tropical StormBy Phineas Upham

There are two major reasons why California doesn’t experience hurricanes. The first is that the weather isn’t warm enough, at least not in the waters. The California coast is almost constantly battered with winds, which causes cooler water below the surface to come higher. Because the paths of these storms take them close to the California waters, the storms typically dissipate by the time they would normally come into contact with the lands there.

Sometimes, however, the conditions for a tropical cyclone are created. This happened in 1939.

A depression formed off the coast of Central America in September of that year. Within ten days, it moved northward and was tracking as a hurricane. Eventually, it dissipated right around San Pedro. It made landfall there, bringing intense gale-force winds with it. With a wind force of 11, as reported by a ship at the time, it was technically a very mild hurricane.

Los Angeles received 5 inches of rain, with 11 inches recorded on Mount Wilson. One thunderstorm deposited 7 inches over Indio in the span of three hours. The LA River, which is often little more than a trickle during September, became a raging rapid of water streaming through the city.

Reports from the time show that people were still on the beach even as winds approached the 40 mph mark, so it’s safe to say Los Angeles was caught mostly off guard by the storm. So much so that the Weather Bureau established a forecast office for the sole purpose of serving the Southern California area.


About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.