Weather in the Foothills

  “We only have two kinds of weather in California: magnificent and unusual.”

~ James M. Cain, American author and journalist


This past week a report from the American Lung Association came out declaring LA the city with the nation’s worst air quality. We live in a unique micro-climate zone where heat combined with stagnant weather conditions and winds are often too weak to sweep away much pollution – both natural and manmade. On top (literally!) of that, a high-pressure system often traps dirty air close to the ground, allowing smog levels to build up. LA is notorious for being one of the smoggiest cities in the United States with its current inhabitants being mostly to blame. But wait just a minute … the blame is not entirely ours, as documented 500 years ago.

Southern California has long suffered the nation’s worst levels of ozone. The corrosive gas, which inflames the lungs and triggers asthma attacks and other health problems, is not emitted directly but forms when pollution from cars, trucks, factories and other sources bakes in the heat and sunlight. So it’s no coincidence that the highest ozone readings usually happen when the weather is hottest.

Our first account of LA’s air comes in1542 when a tiny armada of two ships flying the flag of Spain sailed up the California coast. On board were two-to-three-hundred men, including seamen, soldiers, merchants and Indian and African slaves.

The voyage – commanded by a conquistador named Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – produced the first written observations of the Los Angeles area. The area was also bestowed with one of the region’s first European names.

The native Tongva people emerged from their grass huts, shouting, encouraging them to land. Upon landing, the Spanish called the land Baya de los Fumos (Bay of the Smoke) because of the many smokes they saw on it.

Southern California was one of the most densely populated regions in North America. The smokes’ origin remains a mystery. They may have been cooking fires burning in the many Tongva villages that dotted the Los Angeles coastal plain and interior valleys. In the 16th century the area’s inversion layer would have trapped campfire smoke then just as it traps automobile exhaust today.

Early Monday morning there’s a very high probability of rain; the National Weather Service states that 10%-20% of the storm will miss us. Around an inch is predicted but orographic lift and tapping into the atmospheric river could enhance this last-of-the-season rainfall.            

As often exclaimed, “It’s up in the air … for now!”

Sue Kilpatrick is a Crescenta Valley
resident and Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service Reach her at