Mt Shasta, 14,442 Feet, From the Scott Mountains, Shasta Co., California

Northern California’s Climate

It is the purpose of this chapter to present some of the vital truths about northern California, its climate, soil, resources, and general characteristics. The truth is more remarkable than any Aladdin-like tales that might be woven from the author’s imagination. This is perhaps the reason that the early legends that reached Spain attributed supernatural powers to the women of this land, which was supposed to be a living Eden, a sort of fulfillment of Shakespeare’s picture of fairyland, as portrayed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The truth was added to by the early navigators until none could say where fiction and fact were blended.

Logging Scene in the Redwoods
Logging Scene in the Redwoods

Despite the luring and palpable facts of every-day life in California, it is strange that a large proportion of the oldest inhabitants, even those of ample means, know little of its scenic wonders, its grandeur of sea and shore. But this fact has its counterpart the world over. Close to Niagara the writer was surprised, many years ago, to come upon intelligent men that had never heard its sublime diapason, the most wonderful manifestation on the globe of the power of gravitation. Its beautiful rainbows, its cave of winds, and other secret wonders awoke no curiosity in their minds. On the island of Maui, as well as on Oahu, in later years, the same indifference was noted. At the Hawaiian metropolis he saw old men and women that cared nothing for the volcanic fires of Kilauea, though at times its aspect was that of a burning mountain. The sublime spectacle of the Palace of the Sun (Haleakala), most marvelous of extinct craters, had never aroused the curiosity of the phlegmatic. So, in California there are thousands that have never seen or cared to see the glories of Yosemite, the inspiring peaks of Shasta, or the snowy crests of the high Sierras. Like the peasants that wandered away from the diamonds of Golconda, which they thought were common pebbles, many of our people fail to realize that nature spreads treasures at their feet in almost every part of the state.

The author of “A Lemon Home in California” struck the truth when he said that the scent of woods and flowers, the inspiring glimpses of mountain and sea, and the smell of lemon groves from afar tell the story of a mild climate and a varied soil.

The picture of an earthly paradise has not lost its charm, even in an era of commercialism; and actually or ideally the search for a Garden of Eden is the “dream of youth and the most serious occupation of manhood.” The ancient fables of Guatauma to the effect that the first men of India found the earth delicious when they ate of it, are not wholly wrong–for the very soil of some countries holds men with a charm so great that there is magic in the very touch of the ground. California has ever been a name to conjure with, a country for the working out of destiny. The name is a symbol of gold mines, ancient forests, fields of yellow grain, orange groves, and an empire of wealth.

Over wide areas of the state June is never far away. The humidity of summer is so slight that there are no sunstroke during the heated term, and the nights of winter are not so cold as autumn in the east.

Conditions will be understood more intelligently when it is explained that the ocean frontage of the state is not far from nine hundred miles, and the state comprises a domain as extensive in latitude as that stretch of territory extending from Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, to Savannah, Georgia. It will doubtless astonish many readers to learn that the New England states New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Ohio combined do not make an area as large as that of California.[1]California is the thirty-first state admitted into the Union. The coast line of the commonwealth is 1097 miles, her greatest width is 270 miles; her area is 158,360 square miles. The state has 120 … Continue reading

Northern California begins where the San Joaquin river basin ends, and that basin alone is two hundred and fifty miles long and sixty miles wide. The northern part of the state has generous winter rains, fertile soil, and a dry and healthful summer climate. It should be remembered that the great Japan current equalizes the climate of California in such a way that altitudes are more important factors than latitudes in the production of climate.

In “A Lemon Home in California” the present writer has described the climate of northern California, and has said that its equalizing factor is the great Japan current, that warm river of the sea which gives the western coast of America its balmy climate, like mildest Italy, its skies of Egypt, and here and there the luxuriance of the valleys of the Amazon. That current of the ocean is a wonderful phenomenon for contemplation. Starting on its marvelous journey beneath the fierce and ever-shining suns of the equator, in a latitude Southwest of Mexico, this remarkable ocean current plows its way through the unbroken solitude of the Pacific, gathering increased heat in every mile of its course through latitudes of equatorial summer. After flowing ten thousand miles through earth’s hottest climates this current strikes the eastern coast of Asia, turns northward, then forces its way through the waters of the northern Pacific, sweeps the shores of northern California, then flows southward and bathes the entire state with the breath of welcome heat and life. Large areas of northern California feel the good effects of this climate-making ocean stream, which is one of the factors that enable high latitudes to produce lemons and oranges as generously as in San Diego and the south.

William H. Mills, a well-known Californian, has thus fitly described some of the effects of the climate that gives California one of its perennial charms:

“Under our summer suns the fruits of the tropics ripen, unaccompanied by the discomforts of the torrid zone. Here the brown of our summer hills and the golden stubble of the after-harvest are the only winter that we know. Here a spring-like verdure is the harbinger of coming autumn, and autumn is attended by no forewarning of the bleak rigors of winter. Here winter is the season when the warm, brown earth is turned by the plow for seed time, and spring, with its flowers and ripening grain, is opulent with the prophecy of hopeful industry. Nor are these all the features which challenge our love of country. Here nature has wrought her best enchantments in the sublimity of mountain heights, the bold grandeur of cliffs, the pensive peacefulness of lovely valleys, and the expansive splendor of fertile plains.”

It is not strange that such a land has ever appealed to men like Bayard Taylor and Horace Greeley, and they have always beheld the vision of a glorious future for the millions destined to till the fertile acres of these Pacific shores. Humboldt’s vision of one of the largest cities of the world at the Golden Gate comes closer to realization each year.

Dr. P. C. Remondino, one of the great climatologists of the United States, has aptly said that climate is a wonderful factor in civilization, for it makes morality and creeds–the mysteries of Eluesis, the festivals of the Roman Flora, or the orgies of Dionysius and Bacchus, which would never have occurred except in certain regions of the globe. Climate determines the diet, the occupations, the diseases which we shall suffer and die of, as well as the average life we shall live.

Under fifty years of American occupation, as well as under centuries of native life, California has yielded a rich harvest of years to those fortunate enough to dwell beneath her benign skies. Subject to none of the devastating storms of other countries, free from violent changes, and ever equable and healthful, it is not strange that life has been prolonged to extremes of old age throughout the state.

Character of the Land

This history deals with northern California only, except in so far as the peninsula of Lower California and various points in the southern part of the present state contribute events that shed light on the early occupation by the Spaniards, the work of the Jesuits, and the colonization by the Franciscan fathers.

The upper part of the San Joaquin valley, the country adjacent to the coast, including many small and fertile valleys, as well as the rich expanse immediately back of the ocean here and there, form an empire in extent and fertility. Counties are as large as some states, and townships are as large as counties in other states. The foothills and the picturesque Coast Range, shielded and backed by the high Sierras, have much to do in determining the climate. Though the Japan current, heretofore described, is a strong factor in giving the coast moderate summers and mild winters, the mountain background prevents currents of air of extreme temperatures from disturbing the isolation of our uniform climate.

In the vicinity of San Francisco, in Santa Cruz, and as far north as Eureka, often in summer time there are high fogs and boisterous winds. The fogs are frequently mistaken for clouds by visitors from the east, and it is not unusual to see “tenderfeet” with parasols and umbrellas during the summer months, which Californians known are free from rains.

Everywhere the foothills are picturesque, and at times their blue peaks seem very close to the shore, though generally some miles distant. It is common knowledge that the high Sierras are famous in romance and in song. Yosemite rivals the Alps, and the diversities of climate of the state are the most marvelous in the world. From orange groves and strawberry fields it is but a few hours’ ride to the snow belt of the beautiful mountains.

Mt Shasta, 14,442 Feet, From the Scott Mountains, Shasta Co., California
Mt Shasta, 14,442 Feet, From the Scott Mountains, Shasta Co., California

Far to the north is glorious old Shasta, one of the famous peaks of the world. It stands unique in its noble masonry, rising skyward 14,442 feet. Its grandeur impresses the visitor as do few spots in the wide world. Travelers from afar have said that the globe nowhere else presents a view more impressive than the silhouette of sovereign Shasta, rising sublimely into heights of everlasting snow. It lifts its hoary summit into the bluest of summer skies, and is visible from such great distances that its deep canons and expansive fields of snow, its thousands of acres of rugged pinnacles, and its broad expanse of ice blend in one imposing mass, at once the despair of painters and the inspiration of poets.

the Coast Range is broken through at the entrance of the Golden Gate, and legend says that an upheaval in times so far remote that the oldest native Indians knew of the occurrence only by tradition, shook down the mountain walls and allowed the tides of old ocean to plow through the narrow channel into the Golden Gate.

The coast region has a distinct summer climate, particularly in the territory extending from Santa Cruz to the far north. High fogs and bracing winds predominate during the dry summer months, and the winds, like great sanitary fans, have doubtless saved San Francisco from plagues and fierce heat during the long days of summer.

Outings from the regions adjacent to the sea, during July and August in particular, are not to escape from the heat, but to find it. Mr. Louis Whitcomb, of the San Francisco Chronicle, discovered after long observation that eastern people find the climate a cold one during summer, and they welcome an escape to warmer regions. Various springs and mountain resorts are popular in the summer because of their genial warmth. At no time, however, is the coast climate disease-breeding, except to invalids and weak people. The rugged enjoy it.

At times the rainy season becomes a little wearisome, but some of the loveliest days of the year are in the halcyon calms that follow the heavy southeastern winter rains, which usually find their origin in the storms, or “cyclones,” as the weather observers designate them, from the far north-western Pacific.

There is a deal of misapprehension in some quarters concerning the rainy season in California. Some people have been led to believe it is a period of disagreeable storms and almost perpetual floods; but it is more accurate to say that the rainy season is the only time of the year when there is any rain, the period when farmers rejoice and the masses are happy. by February spring is in full splendor, and often January days are as life-giving as the budding springs of New England. The brown hills become green early in February, and soon nature is aglow. Royce well says: “A few golden weeks of absolute freedom from winds and rains, or warmth and sunshine, give place at last to the long sleep of the dry sea–as windless and dreary as the climate of Lotus Land.”

The approach of winter is not heralded by fear; it is welcomed with joy. Summer wanes gradually, sometimes lingering until past the halcyon days of September, or even until the soft brown tints of October tell that cool nights and rains are near. A wind springs from the Southeast, rushing toward a climatic disturbance far out in the northwestern ocean, and soon a gentle shower begins–sometimes more like mist than rain. In a few hours, a possibly not until nightfall, it becomes steadier and the precipitation may increase until it seems as if the windows of the sky had been thrown open; but thunder and lightning are almost unknown. It is during these heavy rains that the farmers rejoice, though they are satisfied if the downfall continues gently for three or four days. Then the sun peeps forth from cirrus clouds, the air becomes clear, mountains loom into view through the lens of bright atmosphere, the birds sing, and often the most charming weeks of all the year follow these benign winter storms that are feared by those who have never been west of the Rockies.

Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.


1 California is the thirty-first state admitted into the Union. The coast line of the commonwealth is 1097 miles, her greatest width is 270 miles; her area is 158,360 square miles. The state has 120 peaks exceeding 8,000 feet in height; 41 exceeding 10,000, and 11 exceeding 13,000. The snow line of the Sierra Nevada is about thirty miles in width, and these mountains are from fifty to one hundred miles back of the coast. — Lummis.

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