California – Concerning The Climate

OF all the gifts of Nature to the Golden State, none has been more thoroughly advertised than its climate. Nevertheless—or, shall I say, therefore —there is nothing about which the transient visitor is apt to be more unreliably informed beforehand, or to carry away with him after a few weeks’ visit, more incomplete notions. One needs to spend at least one whole year on the Pacific Slope before he is in position to speak of its climate in any comprehensive way; and even this twelve-month’s experience will serve only to outline its broader features of difference from the climate of our Atlantic sea-board. With increasing years of residence he will find need to revise many of his first conclusions and will grow more and more cautious about positive generalizations. The old-time Californian, consequently, sets many hedges about his speech when the inquiring tourist tries to pin him down to hard and fast declarations.

“No, they ain’t no sunstrokes on this coast ever,” I hear Uncle William Parkes remark, as he drives a party of Eastern school-teachers in his public carriage around Pasadena, “leastways you needn’t figger on ‘em. To be sure, last summer I did hear tell of a couple of chaos who died of the heat in a ditch up in Fresno. That don’t often happen, though. Of course it don’t rain in summer—that’s the dry season here, you know. Leastwise, that’s the way it gin’ally is; but once in so often, things gits out of joint in the weather outfit up above, and I have known quite a bit of rain once or twice in July. No, it never snows in Southern California you bet, except in them high mountains—that is, it ain’t natural fur it to snow in the valleys, though I do mind, now you speak of it, that one winter a few years ago we did have a snowfall in Pasadena, but it melted jest as fast as it touched the ground, and didn’t last ten minutes. Thunder storms? No-owell I do mind there was one about two years ago; but there’s as good as none. When does the rainy season begin? Well, now, I couldn’t jest say. November is purty safe to figger on. But then again, I have seen right smart of rain in September; and other years they ain’t been none till purty nigh Christmas. You see, missus, it’s a bully climate, all right, and suits me right down to the ground and every right-minded person, but when it comes to drawing up a constitootion and by-laws fur it to go by, you’ll find it jumpin’ its bail now and then. I knowed a lot more about this climate the first year I lived in it than I’ve ever knowed since and I’ve been here goin’ on twenty-seven year this spring.”

One of the popular misconceptions about the California climate is that it is without seasons, and thousands who annually come to this coast for a month or two’s outing during the winter or spring months return to their Eastern homes in the belief that the whole round year is a monotony of ethereal mildness with a few disagreeable rains thrown in during four or five months of the winter and spring. As a matter of fact there are four distinct seasons in California just as in the East, but the extremes of the East are absent here. Speaking for the beautiful valleys that open to the coast, and which include the particular parts of the State most resorted to by travelers, while there is a marked freedom from the boisterousness which in some way mars every season in the East, there is yet no lack of difference in the quality of the months, as the year moves on to its consummation.

From December until late February, for instance, there is a succession of snappy mornings, not infrequently with frost in the early hours, and of nights briskly cold that give a special zest to the family gathering about the evening lamp and the crackling hearth-firs with pussy asleep before it. As the vernal equinox approaches, the hillsides and mesas don their glorious raiment of wild flowers, the orange-blossoms load the air with fragrance and the deciduous fruit trees of the ranches—the almonds, the peaches, the apricots, the plums—bourgeon and flower; the rains cease, the songs of returning birds are heard on fence-post and on tree-top, and spring is as decidedly spring here as anywhere on earth. With the outgoing of May, the hills and valleylands begin to take on the summer brownness that marks the resting time of much of the plant-world in this land of no rain from May till November; the nights, still cool but not so cool as earlier in the year, are succeeded by days that during the middle hours are sufficiently warm to lure one to a siesta in the shade of a vine-covered pergola, or in a patio where oleanders cast their cooling shadows and water tinkles in the fountain. This is pure summer—absolutely distinct from the spring that preceded it; absolutely, distinct, also, from the fall which follows it, when the leaves of the deciduous trees and shrubs take on characteristic autumnal tints, when the vineyards are all glorious with their purpling clusters, when golden-rod is blooming, and the fluffy balls of wild clematis seeds ripen in the roadside tangles and float away, and when the air, as the sun draws to its early setting, is chill with the genuine appetizing cold of an Eastern October.

All this seasonal change is to be appreciated only from continuance of residence, and once realized, the very gentleness and subtleness of it endear it to lovers of a quiet life. There are no cold waves, hot waves, cyclones or blizzards, no cloudbursts or thunderstorms even, except in the high mountains.

Kipling in one of his essays has whimsically alluded to the boisterous, unladylike conduct of certain of the American seasons, banging the door in each other’s faces and in other ways misbehaving. He could not have spoken so of the California seasons, which are well-bred, sweet tempered and kindly, yet each with a mind of its own that makes it stand out distinctly from its fellows. As to wind, different localitieas vary. On the whole there is less of it that is disagreeable (the desert regions excepted) than on the Atlantic coast; though truth requires mention of a dry, irritating sort called a norther, or in some sections a Santa Ana, which is to be borne with at times. The norther is as discomforting to California as the mistral is to the south of France, but is warm instead of cold. Its visitations vary in frequency in different parts of the State. In many, it does not occur oftener than once a year, sometimes not so often as that, day following day for weeks with nothing blowing stronger than a five mile breeze. Then some day, come certain preliminary warm puffs, which gradually settle into a tempest that bends great trees like whips, whistles demoniacally about the corner of the house, and raises an intolerable dust. The velocity gradually increases, attaining on rare occasions a maximum of fifty or sixty miles an hour until every particle of moisture seems sucked out of the air and your nervous system is strained to the snapping point. Then suddenly—it may be after twelve hours of steady blow or twenty-four—there comes a lull, an expiring gasp or two, and to your unutterable relief a heavenly stillness pervades the universe, and you thank goodness that’s over.

“Oh, yes,” says the Old Californian, when you reproach him for it, “the Lord sends us a norther once in a long while to keep us humble, I guess, but they don’t come often. When one does come, there’s nothing I know of to be done about it but to go in the house, shut the door and windows, and forget it if you can. Then when it has blown over, go out and assess the damage. It won’t be as much as you thought.”

Apropos of the summer, it may be added that to appreciate the charm of the landscape in California at that season, one needs an especially open mind. We are all so disposed to reckon the pea-green beauty of the Eastern summer the one proper standard by which to judge that our first disposition with respect to a prospect that is barren of much green, is to call it burned up and ugly. When we succeed in ridding ourselves of that convention, we find that as a matter of fact the California country-side in summer is the analogue of an Eastern landscape in late autumn—replete with beauty less patent to the careless than that of a more flowery season, but just as intense. California’s long rain-less period of almost constant sunshine is radically different from a droughty time in the East, in this respect: there, the normal condition is fixed for frequent rains and resultant greenness, and the failure of the expected moisture is a calamity because abnormal; here in California, the annual browning is part of the year’s regular plan, God’s permanent ordering for the land, and like all the routine of nature, beautiful if one have eyes to see. Pastures are, of course, withered, and hills are verdure-less, but the absence of bright green is made up by the abounding presence of rare tones of brown, olive, and yellow, which pale and deepen and intermingle in countless exquisite combinations, in the shifting lights of the revolving days.

Another way of dividing the California year is into the rainy season and the dry. This only means that from the middle of spring until mid-autumn there is, as a rule, no rain; while from mid-autumn until the middle of spring again, all the rain falls that does fall within the compass of the twelve months, but every day is by no means a rainy day. The rainfall, for instance, recorded at Los Angeles for a series of thirty years, during the months of December, January, February and March, averaged a total of eleven and one-half inches for these rainiest months of the rainy season, being somewhat less than three inches per month. This is not appreciably different from the average rainfall during the summer months in the East. From Santa Barbara northward the volume of precipitation is rather greater.

To the permanent dweller in California the season of the rains is a time of especial content, for after six months of persistent dry weather, one is, if ever, properly ready to welcome a rainy day with that unreserved heartiness with which, one may be sure, the Lord desires His blessings received. While the winter tourist naturally enough grumbles at the rainy day as an interference with his personal plans for motoring, golfing or taking a drive, the resident Californian is feelingly aware that all the water which makes the basis of California’s being the pleasant place it is to visitors, must come from the clouds, if it comes at all, during this season which the tourist chooses for his own. So he smiles comfortably as he looks over his spectacles at his rain gauge and sees the column of water rising.

If the visitor would but realize the fact, the win-ter rains in California are among the especial charms of the climate. Considering, for instance, the territory tributary to Los Angeles, nowhere are there gentler, tenderer, softer rains; nowhere, to reverse the Shakespearean figure of speech, are rains fuller of the unstrained quality of mercy; nowhere do they give more considerate warning of their coming, gathering openly in a sky that daily clouds up a little more and more for several days, and then beginning not in a wild whirl of wind and a burst of waterspouts, but with a gentle sprinkle which gradually increases in volume as the parched tongue of earth is moistened to take it in. Once begun, however, the rain does not readily stop. Usually for two or three days the clouds continue dripping as from a sponge that is squeezed now hard, now lightly. Occasionally there is a lifting of the mists from the mountains, revealing a snow-capped peak here and there and letting patches of reassuring sunlight sift through to earth, before the vapors shut down again and fresh showers descend And then, after all is over, the measurement Of what has fallen during the whole course of the storm, will perhaps be but an inch or two.

On these days of moisture you will find comfort indoors beside an open fire, if you are blessed with one, or lacking that, by your gas grate, or portable oil heater which sooner or later every wise visitant in lodgings finds it conducive to comfort to have in his room. The rain should not, however, keep one indoors entirely, for while at times there is a storm that drives and dashes, more often the modest precipitation is so nearly straight downward as to make walking with an umbrella a pleasant pastime. There is a delicious coolness in the dampness which renders a light overcoat or medium-weight wrap comfortable, while the cleansing air of a rainy day in California has a caress in it that one never forgets, being free from the humid mugginess which not in-frequently accompanies a winter rain on the Atlantic seaboard. Then the clearing off, the clouds breaking apart and lifting from the mountains, leaving all the peaks wreathed and the canons smoking with rising vapor, the clean, bracing dryness that succeeds the rain, the shining fakes of the leaves and flowers put up to. the sunshine, the stimulating winter sunshine itself—this part of the rainy pro-gram even the grumpiest tourist enjoys.

Of all the surprises that California, and particularly Southern California, holds for the newcomer, probably none is more thorough than the delight-fulness of the summers. When Mr. Moneybags, just out from New York or Chicago, steps from his room upon the sunny veranda of his hotel on some balmy January morning and draws’ his first delicious breath of the California winter, he is apt to say, throwing back the lapels of his summery coat, in which a fresh plucked flower is blooming:

“Well, there’s no discount on this—it’s gilt-edge paper, without doubt; but if it is this warm in winter, it must be like a furnace in summer.”

And that is the regulation attitude of the Eastern-bred towards the Southern California summer, before he has lived through one. He knows that the July temperatures of his Pennsylvania or Massachusetts home range anywhere from forty to eighty degrees higher than in midwinter and when he comes to California and sees the thermometer at noon on New Year’s Day standing at seventy-five in the shade, it seems natural enough to reckon on a sum-mer temperature of a hundred and fifteen to a hundred and fifty-five !

Now as a matter of fact, the entire coastal region of Southern California, as far inland as the influence of the Pacific trade winds and ocean fogs is felt—the region in which, for instance, such well-known tourist cities as Santa Barbara, Pasadena, Los Angeles and San Diego lie–has a particularly charming summer climate. There is an occasional brief spell—rarely of more than three or four days’ duration—of undeniably, hot weather to be expected during the progress of every summer, but the nights and mornings are even then deliciously cool, and the days so devoid of any perceptible humid quality and so tempered by the regular wind off the sea that the midday temperature during such times, though it ascends sometimes into the nineties and occasionally even to a hundred, is never prostrating. Yet even after the Easterner has decided to settle in the State, and has been told and told and told again that the summers in California-the desert counties excepted—are no warmer than anywhere else, while anywhere within fifty miles of the coast they are really cooler than the Atlantic seaboard ever dreamed of for summer weather, he still finds it hard to accept the totally different conditions of the Pacific Slope at their face value.

Our Cousin Jane from Philadelphia is typical of this frame of mind, and her first summer in Pasadena was a typical experience. She arrived in the early part of April. Being exceedingly fond of flowers, she was every day filled with joy at the wonderful sight of the gardens and of the countryside in its vernal freshness. Like most people having a good time in California she lost track of the calendar entirely and enjoyed herself unreservedly.

One morning at breakfast, she suddenly inquired the day of the month.

“Mercy me!” she exclaimed, when told it was the last day of June, “you don’t mean to say that next week will be the Fourth of July I”

After breakfast, we saw her examining the thermometer that hung in a shady corner of the porch.

“Why,” she said, looking disturbed—she hates hot weather—and removing a light shawl which she had found comfortable in. the cool breakfast room, “do you know it is seventy-six and not half-past eight yeti It’s going to be a scorching hot day.”

It was in vain that we told her that the mercury had been just as high at the same hour for the last couple of weeks, and that the absence of humidity took the unbearableness out of high temperatures. Seventy-six was seventy-six to Cousin Jane, and meant at least eighty-six by lunch-time, and that of course was too hot for any mortal use.

So like Don Quixote fighting the windmill, Cousin Jane set her lance in rest against the weather in orthodox Philadelphia style. Taking it for granted that the sunlit outdoors was as hot as it looked, which it never is in. California, she decided to stay indoors, and abjured her daily walk abroad. She pulled down the shades to keep out the glare and shut down the windows of her room to keep out the heat; she fanned herself in season and out, and at noon lay on the lounge with closed eyes. Immediately after lunch, she retired to the gloom of her darkened chamber and lay down to thoughts of the stifling heat. We recognized all the motions of a hot summer day in the East.

As tea-time drew near she came forth from retirement clad in her coolest, gauziest attire, and took another look at the thermometer. It was still well up in the seventies, so she carried a chair out upon the shadiest part of the lawn and sat down under a tree. The same cool trade-wind that had been gently blowing all day and had made work in the broad sunshine even at midday entirely bear-able to the rest of the family (though Cousin Jane’s mind had been unable to accept such a doctrine), was still blowing and played maliciously across her shoulders. Had the thermometer been ten degrees lower, she would have said the air was cool, but with the mercury not far from eighty, how could it be cool? It certainly would have been hot at that in Philadelphia, and why should it be different here? So Cousin Jane stack it out gamely until the tea-bell rang. She went to bed early that night, and next morning came to breakfast with her shawl on.

“I seem to have caught cold,” she said peevishly. “This is a queer climate. ”

It would appear that Cousin Jane’s lance had gotten entangled in the remorseless sweep of the windmill’s sail, and she had been thrown.