ASK TOM: "Simoom winds"

Dear Tom,

The Walker A. Tompkins book “Goleta” tells of a “simoom” in Southern California on June 17, 1859, which sent the temperature soaring from 75 to133 degrees. Have you ever heard of a simoom?

– Craig Schroeder, Michigan City, Ind.


Dear Craig,


A simoom is a hot, dry and dusty desert wind that blows in the Sahara, Arabia and the Middle East. It means “poison” wind and can boost temperatures to 130 degrees while dropping the humidity below 10 percent.

Accounts of the 1859 simoom refer to a suffocating wind that destroyed everything in its path: cattle dropping dead in the fields, birds falling from the sky, vegetation scorched, and the blistering of the skin of an offshore fisherman. Corroborating documentation has not been found, and many historians and meteorologists are skeptical.