From the ABC 7 Weather team

Santa Ana winds mess up Pasadena; 140 mph gusts in the Sierras

December 1, 2011 - 02:06 PM
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The strongest wind storm in years is pummeling the southwest U.S., snapping trees like matchsticks and grounding flights.

“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 husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
– Raymond Chandler, Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

Any meteorological phenomenon that gets the Chandler treatment you know is Serious Business. So it is with the Santa Ana winds, seasonal screamers of the West that are messing up air traffic by knocking out power and blowing stuff onto runways, and using hefty trees to smoosh cars like bugs.

Gusts of 80 m.p.h. will be common up to Friday in the worst wind storm to strike California in years, according to the National Weather Service. A banshee of a gust measuring more than 140 m.p.h. was recorded along the crest of the Sierra Nevadas, and heads were spinning in Pasadena last night with 97 m.p.h. wind. Check out the aftermath, which looks like a Tyrannosaurus stomped through the streets:

Video from sazores

This wind assault might go down in the books as a "once-in-a-decade" event, with Nevada, California and Utah all under the gun today from these ripping easterlies. So what causes them?

The Santa Ana winds are dry, feverishly warm gales named after the Santa Ana Canyon in southern California. They tend to arise in from October to March when high pressure develops over Nevada, forcing cool air toward the ground. As this air flows downward it gets pressurized and begins to warm up, then gathers speed as it zooms through the land's network of canyons. When it finally comes roaring out into the civilized world, the gusts can knock over the hardiest of trees, scatter shingles like office paper in front of a utility fan and make driving almost impossible. Really: Check out the first of these tweets from aggrieved West Coasters today:

ImDanaDelorenzo
All those years playing Mario Kart really came in handy driving home last night avoiding flying trees. Where was my rainbow star? #SantaAna

byMatilda
Here we go again... The plamtree outside my window is moving around like a freaking monster. #santaana

Nickyourass
Terrific. The #SantaAna winds hocked my "loogie" back in my face.

Waltarrrr
What the [bad word] happened last night? #SantaAna #Hurricane

MeghanDurham
Love me some #SantaAna winds, but when you sleep in the corner room on the side of the house taking the heaviest blow, #sleep doesn't happen

Here's a view from space of the Santa Ana winds, captured in February of 2002 by the MIRS instrument aboard Terra. You can see tons of dust and smoke being carried out to see by the ferocious gusts:

santa ana winds december 2011
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