Southern California Santa Ana Winds

The Devil Winds, the Red Winds, The Santa Ana Winds

While the rest of the country bundles up for the winter, Southern California smugly puts on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Part of the thanks or the blame, belongs to the Santa Ana Winds. Hot and dusty, the Santa Anas carry a large number of positive ions and have also been called ‘ill winds’ or ‘the Devil Winds’. They help keep Southern California warm during the winter, but it can come at a cost.LA palm trees in the santa ana winds

The mysterious winds are formed when the inland Mojave and Sonoran Deserts are cold, usually from October through April. Known as downslope winds, air is drawn through the mountains down into the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County and northern San Diego County. Winds reach speeds of 70 mph, which qualifies as hurricane force. The Santa Ana Winds can even force pollution from Los Angeles across the Pacific Ocean to Catalina Island.

Sometimes they are enchanting and seductive. The warm currents feel silky on your skin and you find yourself looking up at the sky, taking a deep breath of natures heady soul thinking anything is possible.

Other times the Santa Ana winds are heavy and ominous. Hurricane force winds reach under your clothes to scratch at your skin. You close your eyes and mouth to shut out the grit hurling at you, pulling your hair into tangled knots. Dust Devils spin past, picking up trinkets and carrying them into their tall curving funnels. Sharp, jagged palm fronds fly through the air and tranquil fishing ponds are turned into choppy tempests.

Windy Palm Tree
Windy palm trees with long branches of dates

The Witch Winds or the Santa Ana Winds carry a large number of positive ions. Positive ion winds are known to inflame asthma and cause depression, anxiety, irritation, exhaustion and insecurity. Animals are also effected by the winds. Outdoors, my dog eyes me from across the yard with a low, hunched-down stare. His teeth seem suddenly bigger and his eyes look small and beady. Some primal instinct makes me want to pick up a club or a spear. Instead, I close the door, deciding the dog would enjoy more time outside in the fresh air. Indoors, the cat drops by for a quick snack. He has covered himself with dirt and the fur in his coat sticks out like little spikes. He stalks through the house like a panther, flipping his tail impatient and prickly. I know if I touch him we’ll both get a shock.

The native Southern California Chumash Indians know of the winds from long ago. Shamans understand their meaning and can read secrets carried on the winds. Powerful winds sometimes foretold the coming of gods. The mother goddess promised if the winds got too bad she would protect her people in her sacred abode in the mountains.

Similar ill winds blow in different lands and are called by different names. Australia has The Desert Winds, Israel has Sharav, Italy has Sirocco and Egypt calls theirs Khamsin.

Raymond Chandler wrote about the Santa Ana winds in the opening line of his story Red Wind;

“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.”

There are a few things you can try to counteract the negative effects caused by the positive ions in the Santa Ana winds:

First, slather on lots of heavy duty moisturizer, body lotion and lip balm. Make sure you are up to speed with your allergy meds. Natural fiber clothing will help reduce static electricity. Protect your skin from the dust with long sleeves. A hat or scarf will keep your hair from flying into tangles. Leave-in hair conditioner helps cut down on static, clingy hair. Indoors, use water to increase moisture levels and produce negative ions with a small desk fountain, an aquarium or a humidifier. Or try a commercial negative ion generator and static guard. And just remember, it is winter and you’re still in that tee shirt.

Mysterious, seductive and strong, the Santa Ana Winds are one of the unique phenomena that helps gives Southern California its allure.