That’s Not Smoke (This Time)

20190110_070035Anyone who has lived in California’s Central Valley is familiar with this phenomenon: it rains, the sun comes out, you can’t see where you’re going the next morning.

20190110_070049(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

I know people think of California as being all beaches and bikinis, but the reality is that is a teeny-tiny portion of what this vast state is really like.  The Valley (all roughly 450 miles of it’s length) is almost entirely agricultural land.  If you drive the I-5 or 99 corridor, you will see vast swaths of grazing land, orchards, or crop fields, with occasional cities and towns of varying size along the way.

20190110_070129If the temperatures warm up just right after a rainstorm passes through, the moisture evaporates into the air.  Since it’s a big ginormous valley, the moist air just kind of stays put since there’s not a lot of wind here.  Then it cools down at night, and badda-boom-badda-bing, the moisture condenses into fog.  This fog, known as tule (TOO-lee) fog, is a ground level fog unique to this area.  And let me tell you, it’s pretty darned thick, just like pea-soup as the old saying goes.

tule fog
This satellite image from Wikipedia shows how far spread tule fog can become.  The fog can sit right on the ground or sit just high enough to block sunlight and stay for days on end.

Talk to any Valley native about winter tule fog, and they will have a few hair-raising stories to share.  My favorite is the time when I was 16, picking up some things from the grocery store for my mom at night.  Our neighborhood was on the outer edge of town where it would get really thick.  The road I was on had no center line painted on it, and I had to drive along the dirt edge along the right shoulder just to know that I wasn’t too far over to the left so I wouldn’t hit someone head-on, slowly though, to be sure I also didn’t hit any parked cars on the side.  I also had the window down, even though it was cold, just so I could maybe hear if any cars were coming.  It’s not unusual in some areas to have to slow down to 20-30 miles an hour on the freeway because you just can’t see.  Yep, lots of fun.

20190110_072231The sad thing is that no matter how thick I’ve seen it, I have also always seen people driving as if it were clear day.  This is beyond foolish, and sadly, people lose their lives every winter due to someone driving too fast, or too close to others, in the fog.  Just remember, you won’t get to where you want to go on time if you don’t get there at all.


15 thoughts on “That’s Not Smoke (This Time)

    1. My understanding is that tule fog is specific to the Central Valley. If you look it up, you’ll see that the definition of it applies only to here. The fog elsewhere is due to atmospheric conditions higher in elevation that then come down to the surface, whereas this fog is exclusively ground up. It makes for a mess driving, no matter what!

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