Stories set in unusual times and remarkable places

22 October 2008

My Town Wednesday: Santa Ana winds



“My Town Monday” is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day. The goal is to introduce one's blog readers to what’s special about the place where one lives.

Imagine a snowstorm in Chicago in the dead of winter, but take out the cold and snow.

Imagine a tropical storm in New Orleans, but take out the rain and humidity.

What you have left is the Santa Ana winds—hot, dry, howling winds that blast Southern California in fall and winter, knocking down trees, ripping roofs off buildings, flipping over trucks, and drying out the already arid region. The winds, thick with desert dust, make breathing difficult and coat homes inside and out with a brown film.

During the Santa Ana winds, fire looms as a major threat, particularly in October. The winds dry out vegetation, making it catch fire more easily. Once a fire starts, the fierce winds feed oxygen to the fire and enlarge it, and they also help it spread by blowing sparks to new spots. The result can be acres and acres of devastation, lost forests, and hundreds of people left homeless.

A Santa Ana wind starts in the deserts of Nevada and Utah when the weather is cool and the air pressure high. The high-pressure system pushes air southward and downward toward Los Angeles. As the air goes downhill, it compresses and heats up. Meanwhile, its humidity level drops, and the dry air sucks moisture from plants and bare skin.

To make matters worse, the wind’s voyage takes it through canyons and between mountains, constricting it and making it race at average speeds above 30 or 40 miles per hour.

Each episode of Santa Ana winds lasts only a few days. Fog sometimes follows.

“Santa Ana” is Spanish for “Saint Anne.” The early settlers did not blame the winds on the saint, who, according to Wikipedia, has a broad patronage that includes carpenters, childless people, equestrians, grandparents, homemakers and housewives, lace makers, people moving to new homes, old-clothes dealers, seamstresses, and stablemen, among others. Rather, the winds may be named after one of the places they hit, the Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County.

Other theories for the name abound, however. Because the winds are also called the Santana winds, some people argue that the name means “devil’s winds.” In Spanish, Satanás is one of the words for “Satan.”

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Next week’s topic: evoking a sense of wonder in your writing

28 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'd primarily heard the "santana" version of this. Interesting. One of these days I'll be out that way to experience these winds.

steve said...

Whenever I read or hear of Santa Ana winds, i think of Raymond Chandler's description in "Red Wind": "Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."

I'm looking forward to your next post--the sense of wonder is key to what I'm writing right now.

Lana Gramlich said...

Hard winds of any kind make me mad...maybe because of my long hair. Stay safe!

Rae Ann Parker said...

Very educational post. This topic might make an interesting article for a children's magazine. I still think you would make a great non-fiction writer for children.

Rick said...

Shauna, after reading your post and what Steve said, I've got to back and read Chandler. After reading what Charles said, I believe I'll have to experience them myself, and I also agree with rae- you'd make a great non-fiction writer for children. Really great post.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, I debated calling the Santa Anas a "natural wonder," but didn't because of the fires they feed. But they certainly are worth experiencing.

STEVE, now don't go making me nervous with high expectations. I'm hoping next week's post will be a springboard for other people to contribute ideas.

LANA, ditto! I've worn my hair up in a clip more in the past year than in the previous ten. It's windy here even when the Santa Anas aren't blowing. Still, I can't complain too much—the breeze mitigates the heat.

RAE ANN, if fiction writing doesn't work out for me, that would be an interesting direction to go in.

Shauna Roberts said...

RICK, we must have been posting at the exact same time. Thanks for visiting and your comments. There's something exhilarating about being outside when the Santa Ana winds are blowing and feeling all that power.

Rick said...

You are on a word poetry roll tonight. Even your last description evoked strong imagery. Thanks for posting on this topic- it has me thinking about the power of story settings.

virtual voyage said...

I'm with rick; and you certainly chose an evocative photo to match.
Thanks for calling in on mine.

Steve Malley said...

You haven't been thumbing any sharp knives, have you?

Or are you not that meek? ;-)

Barbara Martin said...

I've been to southern California, but not when the winds are known to blow. And I've also heard how the winds affect people into negative behaviour, as in the 'Satana winds'.

Interesting post, Shauna.

Billy said...

I've heard those winds can be viscious. Nice info, cool post.

Travis Erwin said...

We occasionally have wind fueled fires here as well, and a few years ago they were really bad but luckily we've had a lot of moisture this year. I got you linked with this weeks group. Thanks for joining in again.

debra said...

We've certainly had our share of high winds here in NE Ohio, but never coupled with fire. Thanks for an interesting and well written post, and stay safe.

Shauna Roberts said...

RICK, I'm fond of stories in which the setting is one of the characters.

Glad to see you back here, JJ of VIRTUAL VOYAGE.

STEVE, have no fears for my husband. I'm not meek and I would talk about any problems long before I got to the knife-sharpening stage (although people sometimes think I am when they first meet me because they confuse introverted with meek).

Thanks for visiting, BARBARA. You know more about the winds here than we did when we moved. Quite interesting how weather affects people's moods.

Thanks, BILLY. Yes, when the winds blow, there are warnings that top-heavy vehicles should not go out.

TRAVIS, I'm surprised to hear that you get similar winds and fires in Texas. I had not heard that before. Thanks for including me in your MTM post list again.

DEBRA, thanks. Were you hit by the hurricane winds last month? My family in southwestern Ohio was. High winds are rare there. Do your winds come off the lake?

debra said...

We were hit by hurricane Ike last month. We lost a century(plus)old maple tree in front of our old house.
It was an amazing night. Our insurance guy said that Ohio was second to Texas in the amount of damage.
We are generally a bit south to get Lake winds, but we do get them sometimes.

Barrie said...

We've been experiencing those same Santa Ana winds down here in San Diego. My skin is soooo dry now. Wah. All joking aside, it's a scary time of year with all the red flag days (potential fire days).

Travis Erwin said...

The area I live in is semi arid averaging only 18 inches of moisture a year. And we have on average higher winds than Chicago, so it is a dangerous combination.

Michele said...

Great post, Shauna.

Yes, every October/November we can count on the return of the Santa Ana Winds and fires. Unfortunately, they usually discover someone has purposely set those fires, knowing the winds would spread the flames so quickly they would grow out of control within minutes. It's so frustrating and frightening. Not to mention, how heartbreaking it is for the lives lost, the injuries, and the property lost.

I remember back in '93 as I watched the flames in the monstrous Laguna Hills/Aliso Viejo/Laguna Beach fires roar down the canyon within an hour or so. I'd glanced out the window and noticed the 200-foot high wall of flames loom over the hill tops about a half mile away...And man, I'd never grabbed what I needed and sprinted to my car so quickly in my life! With the wind gusts at 70 mph, the fire could definitely be at our door step in no time. There was pretty much no warning and it was purposely set. Fortunately, our area made it through, but hundreds of homes were destroyed in that fire and hundreds more were damaged.

In fact today, October 27th, is the anniversary of that fire. Hmm. Coincidence.

I'll never forget it.

Jenny Jill said...

Winds & weather, pretty hot topics! We had hail...
thanks for the interesting post.

Shauna Roberts said...

DEBRA, that's amazing.

BARRIE, stay safe.

MICHELE, what a scary story about 1993. It's very sad and puzzling that some people purposely set fires knowing they will kill people and/or destroy their homes. It's a cheap, chicken way of becoming a mass murderer, I guess—no chance of someone taking you out and not much chance of even being found out.

JENNY JILL, thanks for stopping by.

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