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!