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What are the Santa Ana or Santana Winds?

Santa Ana Winds, Southern California

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 name of the winds is unclear, not to mention the origin. Although the winds are today commonly called Santa Ana Winds or Santa Anas, many argue that the original name is Santana Winds (or, more correctly in Spanish, Satanás Winds). Both versions of the name have been used. The name Santanas Winds is said to be traced to Spanish California when the winds were called Caliente aliento de Satanás (Hot breath of Satan) due to their heat, a view favored by, among others, the late television meteorologist Dr. George Fischbeck (who was said to refer to the winds, in his folksy manner, as the "Santa Annies"). The reference book Los Angeles A to Z (by Leonard & Dale Pitt), on the other hand, as have many others, credits the Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County as the origin of the name Santa Ana Winds, thereby arguing for the term Santa Anas. Some early accounts 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, in a 1901 dispatch, mistakenly began using Santa Ana Winds instead of Santana Winds. Today, Southern Californians are more likely to use Santa Ana Winds, probably due to its common use by weather reporters and meteorologists. The Los Angeles Almanac, however, takes the view that Santa Ana Winds and Santana Winds are both an old but probably mistaken misinterpretation or mispronunciation of what the winds were originally called. These superhot winds are far too widespread to be realistically attributed to just the Santa Ana Canyon (the winds range the length of Southern California and northern Baja California) and Santana actually means nothing in Spanish except being a surname. Rather, like the hot Diablo Winds or "Devil Winds" in Northern California, these winds (the “hot breath of Satan”) were probably originally named in Spanish after the dark lord himself, positioning Satanás Winds or "Satan Winds" closest to the original historical term.

Special credit for the research assistance of Nancy Smith, Librarian for the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System Reference Center, Los Angeles Public Library. Also, thanks to Don Finer for his contribution and Delia Moya Thornton for keeping our Spanish on point.

Satellite View of Santa Ana Winds, 2002
Click on image for larger version.

This view from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer shows the pattern of airborne dust stirred up by Santa Ana winds on February 9, 2002. The image is from MISR's 70-degree forward-viewing camera, and airborne particulates are especially visible due to the camera's oblique viewing angle. Southeast of the Los Angeles Basin, a swirl of dust, probably blown through the Banning Pass, curves toward the ocean near Dana Point. The largest dust cloud occurs near Ensenada, in Baja California, Mexico. Also visible in this image is a blue-gray smoke plume from a small fire located near the southern flank of Palomar Mountain in Southern California.

This image was acquired during Terra orbit 11423, and represents an area of about 410 kilometers x 511 kilometers.

MISR was built and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Office of Earth Science, Washington, DC. The Terra satellite is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.

Image and description is courtesy of NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, LaRC, Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer Team