June 17. 1859: Sundowners — the equivalent of Southern California’s Santa Ana winds — blow over the ridgetops and through the passes of the Santa Ynez Mountains to flow downslope onto the coastal plains around Santa Barbara. These winds also occur in the Middle East where they are known as a “simoon” and is a strong, superheated and dust-laden wind its name derives from the Arabic verb ‘to poison,’ presumably because exposure to such temperatures could cause heat stroke. The bane of firefighters, they heat the air by compression as they push it downward against the land below, squeezing out its moisture and helping wildfires ignite and spread. Earning their name because they frequently appear in late afternoon and early evening, mild Sundowner winds can result in slight increases in temperature. But a few times a year, stronger Sundowners can bring sharp spikes in temperature, extremely low relative humidity and gale-force winds that force-feed wildfires. Half a dozen times a century, Super sundowners blast superheated air across the coastal plains at higher than gale-force speeds. Perhaps the most powerful Sundowner, was reported June 17, 1859, by the Coastal Pilot Newspaper of California. According to the report, the morning air temperature of 75 to 80 degrees rose steadily until about 1 p.m., when a series of superheated waves of wind blasted the Santa Barbara area. By 2 p.m., the air temperature reached 133 degrees and hovered there for three hours, killing small animals, destroying fruit, ruining gardens and heavily damaging trees before eventually falling to 122 around 5 p.m. People reportedly took refuge behind the 3-foot-thick walls of the Daniel Hill adobe, the casa grande at Dos Pueblos Ranch, and the adobe winery at San Jose Vineyard among other places. Rabbits, cattle, snakes, and deer died on their feet according to a government report, and fruit fell from trees to the ground, scorched on the windward side. Birds fell dead from the sky and others flew into wells in search of cooler air and drowned. The 133-degree temperature held the North American continental record for heat for decades until 1913 when Death Valley recorded a temperature of 134 degrees. 133 currently stands as the 3rd hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
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