Palm Springs Wind
Understanding How Wind Affects the Desert and Why
Palm Springs California is an amazing year-round retreat because it is typically warm and sunny. Surprisingly, it can also be quite windy, and there are areas where it is frequently windier than in others. These are referred to as the "windy area." When buying, wind can be a factor in deciding upon a neighborhood because those that are the most affordabe are often the ones affected by wind.
Wind happens everywhere in the desert; there is no truly "wind free" area. Regardless of neighborhood, you will find stories of wind events tossing lawn furniture into pools, absconding with patio umbrellas, and even toppling trees. Some characterize the desert's wind as magically contained to the north end of town, often with Vista Chino as the border. The truth is more nuanced, and breezes to intense wind events happen throughout the Coachella Valley year-round.
I created this Palm Springs Wind map when I first arrived in Palm Springs in 2009. Until then, no visual representations were available showing where wind was most likely to occur. Today, several others have used my research to develop similar maps. It's important to understand that this map is not scientific. It is based on a combination of anecdotal and verbal history, supported by my own observations and research. Consider it "accurate-adjacent". Enjoy using this information; however, there is no substitute for personal verification.
The primary source of wind in the Coachella Valley is the mountain pass where Interstate-10 (aka I-10 or "the 10") enters the valley from the West. The I-10 travels through the San Gorgonio Pass, one of the deepest passes in the United States. It is the low point between the San Jacinto Mountains to the south and the San Bernardino Mountains to the north. This depression funnels weather systems from the Los Angeles basin into the desert. Additionally, as desert air heats and rises, low pressure develops, drawing cooler air through the pass, which creates wind. The greater the temperature difference, the stronger the resulting winds.
The wind exiting the pass into the valley fans out. The strongest wind remains along the Interestate, where it can blow unobstructed. The further you are from the Interstate, the less intense the wind can become, decreasing as it is disrupted by the various desert communities and ultimately the foothills surrounding the valley. This is why it can be windy on the north end of town and along the highway, yet relatively calm or "wind-free" on the south end of town.
The San Gorgonio Wind Park takes advantage of the consistency of wind passing through the mountain pass, which averages between 15-20 mph. This 70-square-mile park near the north end of Palm Springs, has more than 4,000 windmills and the capacity to generate electricity in excess of 359 Megawatts. The annual generation of electricity in 2009 was 893 gigawatt-hours (GWh). A fun excursion is to take a tour of the windmills, this link has details on the self-driving tour.
The windmills can be seen from nearly every neighborhood in Palm Springs. However, if you live close enough to have the turbines clearly visible, or they seem to be in your backyard, you are likely to be where there are frequent winds.
Winds occur most often and are strongest from April through June. The San Gorgonio Pass continues to have strong winds throughout the summer, generating much needed electricity to help offset the increased electrical use during the warmest months of the year. However, these summer winds do not always equate to wind in Palm Springs and down-valley.
The primary source of strong winds is when a weather system is approaching from the West, or wind events like the Santa Anas, bring very strong and sustained winds. The 'north end', or area closest to the Interstate, is typically the most affected. The rest of the valley will vary between strong breezes to heavy and gusty winds, depending on the area and the intensity of the weather.
Generally, mornings tend to be the calmest in the desert, even on windy days. In the absence of a passing storm or weather event, wind tends to build in strength throughout the day, with heavier gusts and sustained winds by the afternoon and into the evening. This follows the temperature gain of the day. The warmer it is in the valley, the greater the low pressure that develops and the more air is drawn into the valley. As the day ends and cools, the winds will change in intensity, even direction, and then eventually taper off.
From Palm Springs, down-valley to La Quinta and beyond, the southern portion of each city is often referred to as "wind-free". These are the areas closest to the surrounding foothills. In truth, there isn't a "wind-free" area; however, the south end does experience less wind. That is, unless a weather system approaches from the east or if a western approaching storm is very strong. Then these "wind-free" areas will typically become just as windy as the rest of the valley. When the wind approaches from the east, the south end will be affected the most, and the north end may remain calm. Wind is simply a fact of life in the desert.
Higher real estate prices generally fall in areas less affected by wind. The green area on the Palm Springs Wind Map represents the area most likely to be windy. It is also the location of much of Palm Springs most affordable real estate. This is because some buyers will not consider buying in the "windy area", and others consider wind as a compromise when purchasing, applying downward pressure on pricing. The areas least affected by winds, the white portion of the wind map, often have the most expensive real estate.
It's difficult to explain how windy an area is because the perceived intensity of wind is subjective. Factors such as the time of year and the daytime temperature, as well as your frame of reference for defining a "strong" wind versus a "breeze", all make it difficult to assess "wind". A light breeze on a cold day may seem "windy", while the same strength of wind on a hot day may seem like a refreshing breeze. Also, it isn't always windy, so when visiting town you may not experience "wind" firsthand. These links may help.
This site link is a tool for monitoring wind speeds in real time. You can also look back at past weeks or months to determine wind patterns. As you begin to narrow in on neighborhoods that interest you, this tool can help you determine the intensity of winds in the area.
Keep in mind that wind is measured considerably above ground, at tree-top level. This means ground-level wind may be less intense than what is reported. Particularly if the surrounding area has mature trees or surrounding homes to disrupt the wind.
If you are not in the desert to experience wind firsthand, consider using this app to track wind in your area. When a comparable wind registers, you can go outside to get a better understand of the intensity.
If you are wondering what a windy day looks and feels like, this video may help. Click and have "2016-MarkGps" show you how a windy day messes up his hair (difficult to do - can you say 'product'...) as he describes what the wind is like on a fairly windy day.
Something to keep in mind is that wind doesn't uniformly affect all homes in an area. If a home is built so that its outdoor area is downwind, that may be sufficient to protect the outside area from feeling particularly windy. Topography can also be a factor. If a neighboring home is located above another, on a hillside or gentle rise, then wind from that direction may not affect the down-wind property as much.
I tell my clients - wind is neither a good thing or a bad thing; it is just a thing. A "thing" to investigate because it may not be that important a consideration when other factors are taken into account, such as price or amenities.
I was recently having drinks with some clients who purchased in the windy-area of town, which had been a concern for them. They said that they love their home and the wind hasn't been an issue. It's bothered them a few times - truly bothered them - but otherwise, they have had no problems and no regrets. They refer to their home as their "happy place."
It is a matter of perspective.
A Haboob is a significant summer wind event that carries lots of dust on intense winds, and can reduce visibility signficantly. It happens when there is enough humidity to hold dust in the air while a distant, and large rainstorm provides the extreme winds necessary to propel the dust laden air across the desert. Until 2019, Haboobs were not common in Palm Springs. In fact, they are still not particularly common, occuring once or twice a year. They occur more frequently in humid deserts, like around Pheonix and throughout Arizona.
Palm Springs is hot but typically not humid. You have probably heard Palm Springs described as having "a dry heat." However, starting in mid-to-late July and extending through August, the desert becomes more humid, averaging around 30% humidity. Recently, strong thunder storms been more frequent, kicking up the intense winds and providing the humidity necessary to hold and propell the dust.
Haboobs are fascinating to watch as they approach from a distance, and they are messy. They look something like what you may have seen in movies like The Mummy or Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. A wall of dust quickly pushes into an area with strong, violent winds, enveloping neighborhoods and reducing visibility. The most intense effects typically last for only a few minutes to an hour. However, a dusty haze often persists for a day or two after, or until the winds change to clear the air.
If you have any questions about Palm Springs Wind, or Palm Springs Real Estate, do not hesitated to contact me. I am happy to help you better understand the Desert and the Coachella Valley so you have the information needed to make the right decisions, and L-O-V-E your home.
I look foward to hearing from you. - MarkGps
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