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What are the Santa Ana or Santana Winds?

Fire hazard map of Southern California showing direction of Santa Ana winds with orange lines. Courtesy of NOAA-Office of Coastal Management.

The Santa Ana Winds or Santana Winds, most common in the late summer and early fall, begin with dry air moving in from the interior of the U.S. towards Southern California. As this air flows down into the Los Angeles Basin through the low gaps in the mountains (notably Cajon Pass on the east end of the San Gabriel Mountains and Soledad Pass south of Palmdale), it compresses and warms about five degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet that it descends. Though these winds are much cooler high in the mountains, they can become hot and dry and assume gale force when descending into the Los Angeles Basin. They are often the source of air turbulence for aircraft approaching Los Angeles International Airport.

The original spelling of the of name of the winds is unclear, not to mention the origin. Although the winds have been commonly called Santa Ana Winds or Santa Anas, many argue that the original name is Santana Winds or Santanas. Both versions of the name have been used. The name Santana Winds is said to be traced to Spanish California when the winds were called Devil Winds due to their heat. The reference book Los Angeles A to Z (by Leonard & Dale Pitt), credits the Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County as the origin of the name Santa Ana Winds, thereby arguing for the term Santa Anas. This might be supported by early accounts which attributed the Santa Ana riverbed running through the canyon as the source of the winds. Another account placed the origin of Santa Ana Winds with an Associated Press correspondent stationed in Santa Ana who mistakenly began using Santa Ana Winds instead of Santana Winds in a 1901 dispatch.

Special credit for the research assistance of Nancy Smith, Librarian for the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System Reference Center, Los Angeles Public Library.