Mesa Musings: Oh, those Santa Anas

December 07, 2010|By Jim Carnett

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas 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…." —

Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind" (1938)

It's that special time of year again.

I refer not to reindeer, mistletoe and Advent wreaths but to a dreaded season. I speak of lip balm, static cling and dry itchy eyes.

December in Southern California means we're in the midst of the "devil winds" season! If the Santa Anas aren't blowing at this very moment, have patience. They soon will be.


I've lived my entire life here and have hated Santa Anas for as long as I can remember. "Santanas," as we called them when I was a kid, are the bane of the Southern California resident.

The winds wreak havoc with hairdos and skirts; blow dust, grit, soot and pollen into weary faces; inhibit walking and running; sometimes blow bicyclists rump-over-tea-kettle; and make some feel as if they have a large furball lodged in their throat. With regularity they push over fences, knock down trees and power lines, and blow off roofs.

The fence at my childhood residence routinely blew down during Santa Ana season.

These devil winds assault us between October and March, and harass us on numerous occasions during a single season.

I remember growing up in Costa Mesa and seeing dozens of tumbleweeds at a time cart wheeling through my neighborhood. You'd encounter tumbleweeds on main thoroughfares, like Newport and Harbor boulevards. Chain-link fences were bedecked with them.

During Santa Ana seasons in the 1950s and '60s there seemed nary a vehicle in town that didn't have a tumbleweed affixed to its front grille.

Santa Anas are generally northeasterly winds that run their course in a few days. The blustery, dry and usually warm (sometimes hot) offshore winds are called Santa Anas because they blow down Santa Ana Canyon and plague Orange County and several of its sister counties (though the winds rarely make it north of Santa Barbara). Gusts can reach hurricane velocity as the winds funnel down valleys and canyons.

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