A “simoom”? Say what??

Last week Southern California experienced a record-setting heat wave. I wrote about it here: https://appliedclimate.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/southern-cal-heat-wave/. The National Weather Service reported:

“The combination of unseasonably strong high pressure aloft and weak offshore low level flow made for an extremely hot day across much of southwestern California today. The highest temperatures… generally between 110 and 113 degrees…were found across interior sections of the coastal plain and in the coastal valleys.”

Downtown Los Angeles reached 113, an all-time record for any day of the year. Long Beach (111) also set an all-time record. Numerous monthly or daily records were set.

Normally, high temperatures in coastal Southern California occur during Santa Ana conditions, which are characterized by strong, gusty winds from the east. In last week’s heat wave, winds were rather light, so it was not a typical Santa Ana. But the extreme temperatures were short-lived, lasting only a couple of days.

The heat wave reminded me of a local legend in Santa Barbara (90 miles from LA), where I grew up. Santa Barbara established a national record temperature during an event known as a “simoom.”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“Simoom (Arabic: ‘to poison’) is a strong, dry, dust-laden local wind that blows in the Sahara, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the deserts of Arabian Peninsula. Alternative spellings include samiel, sameyel, samoon, samun, simoun, and simoon. Its temperature may exceed 130 degrees F and the humidity may fall below 10%.”

Also from Wikipedia, a 19th-century account of simoom in Egypt goes:

“Egypt is also subject, particularly during the spring and summer, to the hot wind called the “samoom,” which is still more oppressive than the khamáseen winds, but of much shorter duration, seldom lasting longer than a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. It generally proceeds from the south-east or south-south-east, and carries with it clouds of dust and sand.”

Santa Barbara’s simoom, the only one ever recorded in North America, occurred on June 17th, 1859. In the morning the temperature was about 75°- 80°F, but around 1pm strong, super hot winds filled with dust began to blow from the direction of the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north. By 2pm the temperature reached 133°F. This temperature, fortunately, was recorded by an official US coastal survey vessel that was operating in the waters just offshore, in the Santa Barbara Channel, so temperatures on land may have been even warmer. At 5pm the temperature had dropped to 122°F and by 7pm the temperature was back to a normal 77°F.

The US government report stated “Calves, rabbits and cattle died on their feet. Fruit fell from trees to the ground scorched on the windward side; all vegetable gardens were ruined. A fisherman in a rowboat made it to the Goleta Sandspit [a beach west of Santa Barbara] with his face and arms blistered as if he had been exposed to a blast furnace.”

Most local inhabitants were saved from the heat because they sought shelter in the thick adobe walled houses that were the standard construction at the time. This event remained the highest temperature ever recorded in the United States until 1934, when the U.S. Weather Bureau recorded a temperature of 134°F in Death Valley, California.

Last week, Santa Barbara reached “only” 107, though a site in the nearby Montecito hills got up to 112. But both are a far cry from the temperatures on that June day in 1859, when my former hometown became the hottest place in the nation’s history – for a long time, anyway!

Santa Barbara -- one of the lovliest cities anywhere!


About George Taylor

Climatologist, husband, father (3), grandfather (2)
This entry was posted in Weather, Weather Matters. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A “simoom”? Say what??

  1. Jeremy says:

    A few years back I was in John Day when it was an honest 112f. Is there any place in Oregon that is geographically favorable to that kind of heating?

    • The highest temperature ever recorded in Oregon occurred twice in 1898: 119 degrees at Pendleton and Ukiah. Other extremely hot readings have been recorded in valleys in central and eastern — places like Spray, Mitchell, and yes, John Day.

  2. Garron near washington square says:

    I lived in Saudi Arabia for 5 years in the late 70’s and can attest to this phenomena myself. In Al Kohbar, were we lived just 2 blocks off the Arabian gulf, there were days that that evil wind blew off shore causing sand storms and temps well above 120 D/F. Then, in the evenings as the wind dies, the onshore influence would take over and the humidity would go above 80%, while the temperature would only go down to around 100 D/F at night. You would literally have to peel your clothes off due to the sweaty conditions. Your sunglasses would fog up as you walked out side in the mornings too. Living there was what caused my fascination with weather. I wish there were better official weather measurements there, as I believe that the hottest weather in the world might occur in the desserts of Saudi Arabia.

    • I have a good friend who worked on a boat on the Persian Gulf out of Abu Dhabi. He said he was wet all the time. The 90 degree water temperature made it seem like a steam bath.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Stupid question but why are the simoom winds filled with dust and does that dust have any impact on the air temperature?

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