History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART SEVEN: CHAPTER 1: History of the San Diego Climate

No feature of San Diego is better worthy of a place in these historical records than the famous climate which, of all local resources, is the one which has done most to create the city and give it wide reputation. It is a pity that exact information does not go back to the time of the earliest settlement. Of the Mission period we have only such meager rec­ords as this kept by the Fathers at San Luis Rey:

1776, Copius rainfall.
1787, Rain insufficient, crops short.
1791, Extremely dry. No rain the whole year.
1794, Rainfall insufficient, crops short.
1795, Very dry.
1819, Short in rain and crops.
1827, Short in rain and crops.
1832, Short in rain and crops.

FORD A. CARPENTER. Local Forecaster U.S. Weather Bureau. Located, 1896; having been transferred from Carson, Nevada. Promoted in 1906 to Local Forecaster; since 1892, Director of San Diego Natural History Society; since 1905, Director of Chamber of Commerce, and now Treasurer of same. First President of San Diego Camera Club.

This would seem to be an effectual answer to the saying of the Spaniards that drouth was unknown until the Americans came. Fortunately, we do not depend upon such fragmentary records for the history of the climate in later times. The facts in this chapter are supplied by the U. S. Weather Bureau fore­caster, Ford A. Carpenter, and are given in his own words:

Four elements enter into a consideration of the climate of San Diego. Named according to their importance, they are as follows: (1) Distance from the northern storm tracks, and the southern storms of the Lower California coast; (2) prox­imity to the ocean on the west; (3) mountains in the east, (4) and the great Colorado desert still further east. The num­ber of the northern areas of low pressure sufficiently great, and moving far enough south to exert an influence at the latitude of San Diego, are comparatively few; not one-tenth of these lows have an appreciable effect on the climate. The storms from the south (“Sonoras,” as they are locally known), have but little energy, and probably average two a year. As is the case in all marine climates the ocean exerts by far the most powerful effect. This is noticed in the slight daily variation in temperature, and the absence of either cold or hot weather. The average daily change in temperature from day to day is 2 degrees, and the extremes in temperature, from a record of thirty-four years, are 101 degrees and 32 degrees. The temperature has exceeded 90 degrees twenty-two times in thirty-four years, or on an average of about twice every three years. Five times in the history of the station has the temperature touched 32 degrees, but has never fallen lower. Five killing frosts have occurred in San Diego since the establishment of the station, but aside from blackening tender shoots, and killing delicate flowers, no damage was done.


The “desert” winds are responsible for temperatures above 90 degrees, and they are therefore accompanied by extremely low humidity. Records of humidity below 10 per cent are not uncommon during the two or three hours duration of the desert wind; 3 per cent is the lowest relative humidity ever recorded at this station. As the sea-breeze is stronger than the desert wind, the highest point reached, whenever the temperature is above 90 degrees, usually occurs about eleven a.m. At this time the sea-breeze overcomes the land-breeze, and the tem­perature drops to the normal.



Nothing so clearly illustrates the strictly local character of the climate of San Diego as the humidity. While the mean annual relative humidity is 72 per cent at the Weather Bureau station, two miles north and at an increase of two hundred feet in elevation, the humidity decreases 15 per cent. Five miles away, and at an elevation of three hundred feet, there is a further decrease of 5 per cent. The temperature is of course proportionately higher.


The maximum amount of sunshine occurs in November, and the minimum in May and June; the winters being usually bright and warm, and the summers cloudy and cool The photographic sunshine recorder was installed in 1890, and this sixteen years record shows an average of about three days each year without sunshine.


In 1902, there were two days above 80 degrees and three days below 40 degrees, making 9,905 days out of a possible 10,226 days since 1875 (inclusive), when the temperature did not go beyond these extremes.


In 1903, there were seven days above 80 degrees and 7 days below 40 degrees, making 9,919 days out of a possible 10,591 days, since 1875 (inclusive), that the temperature did not go beyond these extremes.


In 1904 there were 21 days above 80 degrees and one day below 40 degrees, making 10,262 days out of a possible 10,956 days since 1875 (inclusive), that the temperature did not go beyond these extremes.


In 1905, there were seven days above 80 degrees and three days below 40 degrees, making 10,608 days out of a possible 11,321 days.



There is a difference of about one mile an hour in the average hourly velocity of the wind between the summer and the winter months; the mean annual hourly velocity is five miles. While the wind blows from every point of the compass during a normal day, the land-breeze is very light, averaging about three miles per hour, reaching its lowest velocity just before the sea­breeze sets in. The records show that there is an average velocity of from six to nine miles from ten a.m. to six p.m. During the summer a velocity of six miles is attained at nine a.m., increasing to ten miles at two p.m., reaching six miles at seven p.m.


The winter months have about five hours of moderate wind beginning shortly after noon. Winds from twenty-five to thirty miles per hour occur infrequently, the average annual number being two. Winds of from thirty-one to forty miles have an average of less than one a year. The highest velocity ever attained was forty miles from the northwest, in February, 1878.


The record of meteorological observations began in July, 1849, and was made entirely by officials of the Government. The Army and Coast Survey kept up the record until the establishment of this station by the Signal Service, Nov. 1, 1871. Since this date, the location of the observing office has been changed a number of times, but the different places have all been within a radius of a few blocks. The office is now in the Keating building, corner Fifth and F streets. The instruments have elevations above ground as follows: thermometer 94 feet; rain-gage, 86 feet; anemometer, 102 feet.


By FORD A. CARPENTER, Local Forecaster, Weather Bureau

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Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County