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