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Jack Smith

So Much Hot Air : Santa Ana Winds Can Raise the Hairs on Your Neck and Arguments From Readers

January 11, 1987|Jack Smith

One blows onto my desk with almost every Santa Ana wind--a letter from some die-hard reader insisting that the wind's true name is Santana .

The tone of their letters--surly, heated, unrelenting--suggests the wind itself.

The latest, from William H. Morgan of Pomona, reads:

"East winds. Santa Ana ? Your spelling. You are misinformed. No winds blow from Santa Ana. It is spelled Santana . Look it up. . . . Ask any Mexican national; anybody who ever ran an old Mergenthaler Linotype. It's Santana , not Santa Ana . Research it and correct The Times."

The hot, dry wind that hurtles over the coastal plain of Los Angeles in fall and winter is called, historically, a Santa Ana.

I have looked it up. I have researched it. I have written about it before. Others have written about it, in The

Times, in magazines, in meteorological journals. Such efforts merely drive the Santanans deeper into their false conviction.

The wind was called a Santa Ana by Raymond Chandler, who perhaps best described it in his short story "Red Wind."

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends up in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. . . ."

In 1847 Commodore Robert Stockton encountered a Santa Ana while camping in the mouth of the Santa Ana Canyon, in what is now Orange County. "The wind blew a hurricane and the atmosphere was filled with particles of fine dust so that we could not see and but with difficulty breathe. . . . "

The wind is called a Santa Ana because it seems to come from the Santa Ana Canyon. Actually it begins in the high-pressure air masses beyond the mountains. It seeks the low pressure of the coast, and it is heated by compression as it pours down the slopes.

Historically, the name Santa Ana goes back well into the 19th Century. It first appeared in print in the Los Angeles Evening Express on Nov. 15, 1880.

An article on "The Philosophy of Sandstorms" began: "In parts of the Los Angeles Valley the Santa Anas pour their blasts of desert sand, making the house the only comfortable retreat."

It was 21 years later--in December, 1901--that a Santa Ana wire service correspondent, who also happened to be the local Western Union dispatcher, perhaps over-celebrating Christmas, filed an exaggerated story about a Santa Ana wind that was allegedly toppling trees, blowing roofs off, piling up sand at doors and otherwise wreaking havoc on the city.

Santa Ana was at that time competing with other Southern California cities for new residents, and the burghers were outraged by this bad publicity. The Chamber of Commerce formed a committee to discourage newspapers from using the name Santa Ana. The etymological confusion they raised has confounded us ever since.

Various myths have been invented in support of other names.

One charming story is that the wind was named after the Mexican general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, whose cavalry stirred up clouds of dust on their forays into Southern California. The trouble with that theory is that Gen. Santa Anna never entered Southern California. And he spelled his name with two n's.

The more popular theory, and one that is dear to people like Morgan, is that the true name is Santana , which was derived in this way: The Mission Indians, hating the wind, called it, in their own language, "the Wind of Evil Spirits," or, in another version, "the Devil wind." Mission fathers translated evil spirit into Satan and called it Satan's Wind. In no time, of course, Satan's Wind had been corrupted into Santana , and, from that, erroneously into Santa Ana .

Another, simpler, theory is that Santana is a corruption of the Indian word itself. There is no historical evidence to support either of these theories.

A more probable explanation of Santana is that it is merely an Anglo slurring of Santa Ana .

In 1933 Father O'Sullivan of the San Juan Capistrano Mission told a Times reporter that Dona Magdalena Murillo, who had been born on the Las Bolsas ranch in 1848, recalled that the wind was called a Santa Ana because it came down the Santa Ana Canyon.

The U.S. Weather Bureau, in its publication "Climatology of California" (1903), refers to a wind "known in Southern California as the Santa Ana."

Actually, I like the Santa Anas.

The skies are cloudless. The air is warm. It is the kind of weather that debilitates and destroys Midwestern football teams in the Rose Bowl.

I'm not even sure that women don't look upon their husbands with more affection than usual.

Of course it doesn't hurt to watch your neck.

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