Saturday was destined for obscurity, to be remembered only for its potato salad, hangovers from Independence Day revelry, or the cold reality of finding that possession of fireworks can draw a $500 fine. Then it rained.
Not much, a mere 0.01 of an inch was recorded at Lindbergh Field, but enough to push the day into local history. No one knows when it last rained that much on the Fifth of July in San Diego, but it was before 1872, when the National Weather Service began keeping records.
The rain ended by midday, but a California Highway Patrol officer suffered a broken leg at 9:20 a.m. Saturday in a traffic accident on the slick roads.
The last time even a trace of precipitation was recorded on the Fifth was in 1972.
Technically, it was a drizzle, according to Dan Atkin, forecaster for the weather service.
"For summer months, there are so few days when it rains, you could probably do this with any number of days because we're pretty arid," Atkin said. "Any day during the summer in which we get significant rain could be a record."
The rain was a bit more significant in Lemon Grove (0.05 of an inch), at San Diego State University (0.04) and in Del Mar (0.03). Traces were recorded in Point Loma, Fallbrook, Oceanside and Vista.
It was the first rainfall since April 6, when 1.13 inches were recorded at Lindbergh.
The forecaster's explanation?
"In upper levels, we had a trough of low pressure throughout the western United States, which helped to deepen our local marine layer," Atkin said, adding that a cold front moved from west to east through Northern California and Nevada.
The rain also marked the first precipitation of the rain season, which runs from July 1 to June 30. The total for 1985-86 was 14.1 inches, up from 9.65 inches the previous year and 5.73 inches in 1983-84. Average for a year is 9.32 inches.
Jerome Namias, research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the wetter-than-average year was expected because of a "strong subtropical westerly airstream aloft." That wind current, blowing from Japan to the West Coast, delivered storms to California that normally float northward to Oregon and Washington.
"We expected more than normal, and we were a bit concerned when the November rains fell off," Namias said, "but then it picked up in February for the anticipated reasons."
As for next year's rain total, Namias said it's too early to predict. But the possibility remains of an El Nino condition, bringing devastating winter storms that have rocked the Pacific Ocean three times this century.
"The truth of the matter is that no one can write it off," he said.
Nor can the people who were cited for possession of fireworks write off their misdemeanor citations. A special eight-person police and fire team that patroled San Diego beaches confiscated about 50 pounds of fireworks, ranging from the half-inch ladyfingers to the 9-inch M-2000s and including the traditional sparklers, bottle rockets and aerial mortars.
Russ Heyneman, fire engineer for the explosive-devices team, said fireworks action was down a little from last year because of greater public awareness of enforcement efforts.
San Diego County regulations consider a person who uses fireworks "immoral, a terrorist and a general goof-up," Heyneman said, joking. Actually, it's a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 to $500 fine.
The California Highway Patrol recorded 17 accidents, none fatal, in the San Diego metropolitan area from midnight to 7 p.m. Saturday.
One CHP officer suffered a broken leg because of slick roads when a car driven by Robert Charles Pattison slid out of control on northbound Interstate 805 near the eastbound ramp of Interstate 8. Officer Richard Bowen was at roadside investigating an accident when Pattison's car car struck another car, which pinned Bowen against a guardrail. He was treated at Sharp Memorial Hospital and was in good condition Saturday night.