The Naming of Winds

How are winds named?

I seem to remember a general rule that all winds are named for the direction they blow towards, but then I may easily have been mixed up and it may be for the direction they blow from.

Sites like this one support my original thought, but I’m also wondering if, for example offshore winds and onshore winds and winds like the Santa Anas in S. California are named consistently.

Winds described with reference to the compass are described by the direction from which they are coming; i.e., a northerly wind is coming from the north.

From The Santa Ana Winds:

I guess kamikaze follows the same naming principle.

That doesn’t help with the ‘Hawk wind’ in Chicago.

Any history on that?

I thought kamikaze translates to “divine wind” with no reference to direction. “Kamikaze (from Kami - “god” and kaze - “wind”) means ‘divine wind’ in Japanese. It refers to the typhoon which saved Japan from a Mongol invasion fleet in 1281.”

That was a bit tongue-in-cheek, meant in the sense that the Divine Wind was “from” a divine.

Funny you should start this thread right now; just now I was working my way through Don Delillo’s monster novel Underworld, and, synchronistically, came across mention of the tramontana. “He loved the Italian words for different kinds of winds that blow off the Alps or up from the African littoral.”

In the Mediterranean, it seems the locals have a lot of specific names for different winds. Each one has its own name and its own characteristics. The mistral. The tramontana. The scirocco. The khamsin. The simoom. On the north side of the Alps, they have the Föhn. The only wind-name like this I know of in North America is the chinook, but that’s more of a generic description of a type of wind than the name of an distinct entity. The Mediterranean and European wind names seem to almost evoke a definite being with a will of its own.

Someone sent me a totally bizarre study of the medical folklore of the black people who live in the Persian Gulf area.
They believe that sickness is caused by “winds” that blow on you. Each specific disease is caused by a different “wind.” Each of these winds has its own name and a specific place of origin in a part of Africa, several hundreds of miles away. Apparently a disease-causing wind can arise at such and such a spot in East Africa and blow to the Persian Gulf, targeting certain individuals. “Some Winds are pagan while others are Muslim…”; here you can see how in this view a “wind” is viewed as a conscious spirit entity like a jinni. In fact, in both Sumerian and Turkish, the word for wind (lil in Sumerian, yel in Turkish) is also used to mean ‘evil spirit’.

Perhaps the Mediterranean habit of naming winds reflects some faint survival of this ancient belief that winds have individual identities, intentionality, and personality.

Jonathan Chance, I thought Hawkwind was a British rock band. What’s it got to do with Chicago?

Specifically “named” winds such as the Hawk, the Chinnok, the Scirocco, etc. all have their own origins.

Regarding general wind direction, there are two rules that (of course) are contrary to each other.

As Ringo noted, the general wind name (in English) is based on the compass direction from which it comes. A Northerly wind blows from North to South, a West wind blows from West to East. A Nor’easter along the U.S. Atlantic coast is a counter-clockwise spinning storm off the coast that sends its heavy, surf-building and rain- or snow-bearing winds down from the Northeast even as the storm, itself, is slowly moving toward the North. (In other words, while the storm may be moving northward, the winds that hit the coast as the storm spins are moving out of the Northeast.)

The special usage that differs is the description of winds over water near a shore. An onshore wind is blowing toward the shore, an offshore breeze is blowing from the shore out to sea.

Or even from a divinity.

“There is a letter on file at the Serra Museum written by the late Ann Guern, an authority on old Spanish. In it she states that her mother, Mrs. Alice Woodbury, lived in Santa Ana from childhood. Mrs. Woodbury reported that the members of the old Spanish families in those days (she had friends among the Verdugo, Sanchez, and Figueroa families) always spoke of the Santa Anas as deriving their name from the valley, and the canyon where they were strongest.”

The Santa Anas in Santa Ana city do appear to come from the Santa Ana Canyon. For those unfamilar with the area this is the canyon of the Santa Ana river which is followed by the 91 freeway between the west end of Corona and the Yorba Linda/Anaheim city limts. Look at a So Cal map. YL and Anaheim probably go into the canyon a bit.

But they do not come from there anywhere else in the greater LA area. I grew up in Chino(north of the canyon) and we always refered to the NE winds as “Santa Anas”
The Moore article assumes that all So Cal residents adopted the Orange County name for the winds.

There is a letter on file at the Serra Museum written by the late Ann Guern, an authority on old Spanish. In it she states that her mother, Mrs. Alice Woodbury, lived in Santa Ana from childhood. Mrs. Woodbury reported that the members of the old Spanish families in those days (she had friends among the Verdugo, Sanchez, and Figueroa families) always spoke of the Santa Anas as deriving their name from the valley, and the canyon where they were strongest.

ancetdotal evidence??

Thanks all for your input!

I appreciate the help. I knew there was some contrary naming principle in there, and tomndeb hit it on the head, onshore and offshore winds confuse me with the general naming scheme.

Thanks also for the background on Santa Anas et al.


Here is a site that explains a little about the meteorology and folklore of these various winds.

It has all the ones discussed here so far, except no mention of the “Hawk wind,” whatever that is.

On the Santa Ana:


This California wind is hot, dry and blows from the North or Northeast in the pass and river valley of Santa Ana. It is the Spring scourge of fruit trees through out the valley and has been known to be very strong. Its reach continues across the deserts and through the mountain passes and across the coastal plain.

Stuart Anthony of the San Fransisco Bay area has added the following information, and while he confesses to being just an amateur in this area I think you’ll agree this information is worth hearing.

In Northern California, the Los Angeles Santa Ana is also known as the Diablo and/or Mono. These winds up here resulted in the horrific historic conflagration in the East Bay Hills on 19 October 1991 that killed 30+ people and took out 3,000 homes. In absence of ignition sources, they still drop trees; rip shingles, and more, off houses; down power and telephone lines; and break windows. The strongest set of gusts that I recall hit 90 mph (144kph) in November 1976.

In the Santa Barbara Area 160 kilometres Northwest of Los Angeles, these winds are known as the Sundowner. There was a catastrophic conflagration there, as well, that burned down to the ocean. These winds constantly put people throughout California on tenterhooks, from August through Early December due to the extreme fire danger that they exacerbate, until the first significant wave of winter storms rolls in off the Pacific to wet down the oily and volatile fuels.

Here’s another site that has articles on “Winds of the World.” I couldn’t find a main navigation page for this feature, but here is a sample article on the Santa Ana:

From any of these pages there is a menu at the bottom of the page that navigates to the other winds.

I was reminded of other such winds like the Poniente that blow in the Mediterranean region and I keep wondering why the Mediterranean has so many individually named winds. Is it more a matter of meterology or folklore?

Red Wind - Raymond Chandler

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

The ‘hawk wind’ is the Northwestern wind the comes down from Minnesota and Canada during the winter in Chicago and reduces the ambient temperature to something approaching absolute zero (for those of you not from Chicago you just go on assuming I’m joking).

But I never have heard an explanation for why it carries that name.

That Chandler quote sounds somehow Mediterranean. The belief that a certain wind can put people on edge. As though it were a malevolent force. I don’t know. I’ve never lived in a place where such legendary winds blow, so I can’t assess for myself whether they really have the effect on mass psychology they’re reputed to.

Something about ionization in the air is supposed to affect people’s moods, though. Negatively charged ions are thought to be benefical, while positively charged ions are bad for you. Ozone is a negatively charged molecule; lightning strikes increase the ozone in the air around them. Negatively charged ions are said to abound in the mountains and at the seashore. What causes positively ionized winds to irritate people’s psychology? The dust they pick up while blowing over the desert?

The only time I recall a wind affecting my mood, it was for the good. One evening in late May or June I was in Denver, Colorado, working on a painting with the door open to the outside. A fresh breeze scented with mountain pine trees was blowing into Denver from the nearby Rocky Mountains. It made me feel great as I breathed it, picked up my mood, and helped my artistic work. I guess it was charged with negative ions from the mountains. Presumably the scirocco and Chandler’s “Red Wind” irritate people because they carry positively charged ions.

Dammit. This is going to bug me now.

A few mentions:

Someone send help. I can’t stop looking.

No relation.