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How Hot Was It (Really?) Historian Investigates Reports Santa Barbara Hit 133 Degrees In 1859


We think of Santa Barbara as a place with postcard perfect weather:  Not too cold, and not too hot, with 75 degrees the high on a nice summer day.  But there’s an almost forgotten story about how for more than a half century the city held the record for the hottest place on earth.  The claim is that in 1859, Santa Barbara reached 133 degrees, setting a record for hottest place on earth which lasted more than a half century.

Santa Barbara historian Neal Graffy is researching the story, which some believe, but others claim isn’t true.  Graffy says the commonly known stories about the 133 degree temperature can be traced back to one source, books written by Santa Barbara historian Walker Tompkins.  Tompkins had based his versions of the story on a science journal written by a geologist who had been exploring the California Coast at the time.

But, the historian started looking at other sources, and found evidence supporting the claim.

Graffy says even though it was 1859, there were thermometers in Santa Barbara capable of recording such a high temperature.

Still, National Weather Service doesn’t recognize the June 17, 1859 report for Santa Barbara.

But, is it even possible?  133 degrees in Santa Barbara?  In 1994, a National Weather Servic meteorologist studying Santa Barbara’s famous sundowner winds said yes.  Gary Ryan looked at the downslope winds unique to the Santa Ynez Mountain range.  In 1990, 112 degree temperatures were recorded during the destructive Painted Cave Fire, which swept down from San Marcos Pass and destroyed hundreds of homes.  The 1859 accounts talked about extreme superheated wind at the time.

The National Weather Service currently recognizes Santa Barbara’s official high temperature as 115 degrees.  It was set in 2017.  Ironically, it was set on June 17th of that year, the same exact day of the year as the 1859 report.

Santa Barbara hit 102 degrees during the Labor Day Weekend heat wave. The hottest temperature recorded in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties over the weekend was in Solvang, which hit 122 degrees.

Besides researching Santa Barbara’s legendary hottest day, Graffy is currently writing a book about the city’s huge 1925 earthquake.  It caused death and destruction, but also led to many elements of the city as we know it today.  Link to Neal Graffy's website: