For a Southern California reader, seeing a Southern California writer write about the Winds of Santa Ana is like learning that Dan Brown writes about secret religious conspiracies, or that John Grisham’s new book keeps writing about a brilliant young attorney, Tested by Opportunity and Ethics: OK, OK, we got it.
The Santa Anas are a tribute that our supposed paradise makes us pay.
They blow hot. They even blow cold. They may or may not make us murderous, or migraines, or at least seasonal bites. They comb the sky until it is so high-resolution that you think you can see individual pine trees on the ridge of Mt. Wilson, which is no further than the end of the road. What else do you need to know?
I would suggest more. Like a little fact finding and a little myth breaking when the Santa Ana season kicks off. It extends at its utmost from Labor Day to Lent, but September and October are the worst.
Like earthquakes, these winds have built themselves into the mythical landscape of our brain. Writers treat the wind like a character. Joan Didion did it; Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Susan Straight and María Amparo Escandón in their new novel “LA Weather”.
These are immigrant winds born in the Great Basin between the Sierra and the Rockies. From there they tumble down on us and tumble out of narrow mountain passes, which they squeeze into a blowtorch mounted on a rocket.
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They are so fast and overheated that they can get 25 degrees hotter with a single mile descent – a blazing wind, a banshee wind that hungers for our crops of desperately dry trees and greenery, for our tile-and-wood quarters, for the Arc and sparks from our electrical wiring.
That twinge of fear – feeling the wind and knowing what might happen next – is what makes the Santa Anas as wildly unsettling as the first quake of an earthquake.
Fire and wind surpass water and human wit. In Northern California, known as Diablo Winds, they set the Oakland Hills and Paradise on fire. Here they burned through San Diego County and Malibu as well as Bel-Air, where a fire burned 500 homes in November 1961. Richard Nixon, who had started the year as Vice President, was standing on his roof in a tie and slacks and using a garden hose to soak the shingles.
Then Vice President (and future President) Richard Nixon and his wife Pat carry their luggage from their rented house on Bundy Drive in 1961 as the flames draw near.
(Los Angeles times)
November 7, 1961: Spectators watch a plane drop Borat on a hill near a Mandeville Canyon ranch owned by actor Robert Taylor, second from right. The man in the middle in the white shirt is the Los Angeles Times reporter Charles Hillinger.
(Los Angeles times)
November 6, 1961: Firefighters with one truck are not enough to save a house on Roscomare Road in Bel-Air. This picture appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 7, 1961.
(Los Angeles times)
November 7, 1961: A pillar of flame shoots over a ridge near Trippet Ranch at the end of Entrada Road in Topanga Canyon. This photo appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 8, 1961.
(Los Angeles times)
November 7, 1961: Burned out houses on Linda Flora Drive in Bel-Air. Almost 500 houses were damaged or destroyed by the fire.
(Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)
Before southern California counted its population in the millions and its rainfall in minus, we did not always view the Santa Anas with concern. In October 1882, in agricultural Los Angeles County, The Times announced the “first Santa Ana wind” of the season, mentioning its “advantage over orange trees while completely covering the face of the raisin.” [grower] with a smile.”
But “Santa Ana Wind” stamps the name of Orange County headquarters on a villain, and Santa Ana, the city, fought heroically but in vain to get you not to call it that anymore.
Santa Ana Canyon was the place where the wind that lashed Orange County was given a place name back in 1871 – when Orange County was part of LA County – and the Anaheim Gazette apparently wrote of Santa Ana winds.
An outraged man complained to the Times in 1893 about the injustice of it all. It is “not a Santa Ana wind any more than a Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, or San Diego wind,” he preached; to call that is “a gross injustice”.
The official Santa Ana could never nail that name in a coffin and bury it. The name was even reinforced in 1901 after a Christmas Eve windstorm wreaked such havoc that an Associated Press reporter dubbed it on national news by the name “Santa Ana Winds.”
The poor Chamber of Commerce; A few years later, and again six decades later, the weather bureau confirmed and confirmed that “Santa Ana” was the approved name. Santa Ana Mayor Allen Hall asked for mercy from the US Weather Bureau, which relentlessly replied, “The name is officially used by the office.”
It still is. Twitter invites you to follow the government’s @ sawti_forecast account, the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index.
It was never a bell that couldn’t be rung; the name is too exotic and unique. Polish opera actress Helena Modjeska founded a 19th century utopian colony in Anaheim. In her autobiography from 1910, she wrote of the Santa Ana wind that “his breath dries out plants, gives people headaches and throws them down … he uproots trees, pulls them down Roofs down and devastated fields. “
Hip Tip: Don’t think that showing yourself an Angeleno insider by calling them “Santanas”. They are not “Santanas”, even if Spanish speakers “Santa” and “Ana” can combine to form “Santana”. (The Times took editorial license in 1882 when it said that the Democrats were in Santa Ana to unleash a “Santana” cyclone of political bombast on the city.)
“Santana” does not mean “devil wind” in Spanish either. “Satan” in Spanish is “Satanás”. Volkswagen has named a number of its cars “Santana” and its market research department has certainly been careful enough not to let any brands with satanic connections roll off the assembly line.
An Orange County historian named Chris Jepsen unearthed the nugget that a Santa Ana man named Cotton Mather argued strongly in 1922 that “Santana” was a Native American word for storm. Nonsense, say the linguists. (Orange County’s Cotton Mather was named after the Puritan preacher Cotton Mather, who paradoxically hunted witches and also advocated smallpox vaccinations.)
And as mighty as the Chamber of Commerce tried to shift the blame elsewhere, the winds aren’t twice as high: “Santa Annas”, named after the legendary Mexican general, supposedly because of the dust raised by his cavalry – a cavalry that, by the way never driven anywhere in California.
Much more plausible than these fanciful stories is the useful nomenclature of geography, like the story told to the Times in 1933 by a priest from the San Juan Capistrano Mission. The reporter was likely assigned the story because Santa Anas hit 60 mph in 1933, crashing boats, uncovering buildings, and moving about 14 million tons of dust.
A parishioner named Magdalena Murrillo, who was born at her family’s Rancho Las Bolsas just before California became a state, in 1850, recalled that during the Santa Ana season, her family never cooked over the fire, but rather the meals ate cold, for fear of fleeting embers, and that the winds would stir up “una polvareda grande”, a hellish dust storm. In one of them an uncle had been swallowed by her.
“Santa Ana” joins a long list of names for strange and disturbing winds around the world: Khamsin, Harmattan, Ghibli and Sirocco … Chubasco, Zonda and Tehuantepec … Föhn and Simoom, a word loved by James Joyce, and for mine Dough the even more splendidly named Williwaw.
We have no choice but to live with the Santa Anas, their dangers and their sizzling intensity. So come up with a few personal mythologies, like the Santa Ana who was so strong she tore your angel hat off and blown it all the way to Surf City. Or the Santa Ana wind, which was so hot it would air-fry a Thanksgiving turkey on the kitchen counter.
Or you could master a karaoke version of Eric Michael Roy and “Santa Ana Winds” from the vanished but popular TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” set in the windy town of West Covina:
“Hello, it’s me / I’m the Santa Ana Wind / I cause allergies / I do things weird too.”