It might have looked like something straight out of Hollywood -- a rare hurricane makes its way toward Southern California! What would Nicholas Cage or Bruce Willis do to save the region?
This ominous-looking satellite loop showing a swirling eye off San Diego was spotted on Tuesday afternoon. But don't worry -- no need to cue up the special effects machine, this is just a harmless formation of low clouds caused by what's known as the "Catalina Eddy."
These clouds are formed when low-level northwest flow interacts with the unique topography there -- mainly the "point" part of Point Conception. It'll cause a swirling eddy to form somewhere near Catalina Island. (See good visualization of it here.)
The eddys typically enhance low clouds and fog development and is usually responsible for the morning marine layer that covers the LA and San Diego areas in the spring and early summer.
But when the swirl is just right and you get the right mix of low clouds around, it can appear sort of like a hurricane with even a defined eye. But it's just harmless fog or low stratus clouds -- thus the nickname "stratocane." (Here is a close up look of one that was in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2008.)
But Hollywood producers are free to make it something more sinister :)
Here is an animation of the eddy as it swirled off the Southern California coast on Tuesday:
And here is an video explanation of the Catalina Eddy by Bill Patzert, oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
Special thanks to Terry Kubar at JPL for calling attention to the Catalina Eddy out there Tuesday.