Weather Window: California’s climate magnet

Mark McLaughlin
Special to the Sun
Courtesy Mark MclaughlinThe wonderous climes of California became a marketing bonanza during the mid and late 1800s.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Long before the 1849 Gold Rush, California’s relatively mild climate had attracted immigrants from other regions where inhabitants endured long, cold, damp winters. The Mediterranean-type climate that blesses the Golden State’s central and southern coastline is considered the most healthful for human beings as well as the most comfortable, without temperature extremes or winter snow.

Of course most of California does not enjoy the benefits of that rare Mediterranean climate that holds sway over less than five percent of the planet’s land mass. There are only five regions in the world that can claim a true Mediterranean climate: parts of Southern California; Southwestern South Africa; the central coast of Chile; South and Western Australia, and the land areas around the Mediterranean Sea.

California has a multitude of climates that vary according to latitude, longitude and altitude. Coastal weather is much different than the interior and the mountain climate much different than conditions in the Central Valley. But when it came to selling the and#8220;Far Westand#8221; to health seekers or the infirm, boosters didn’t dwell on minor details like reality. The whole region was sold as a land of sunshine blessed with rich agricultural lands where crops could grow year-round.

Imagine their disappointment when American farmers finally arrived in California after pushing their covered wagons 2,000 miles west only to stumble into a landscape that appeared drought-stricken. For people used to the lush vegetation common in the Mississippi River valley or states like Kentucky and Tennessee, upon their arrival in late summer or early fall most of California had not seen a drop of rain for months and everything was golden brown, not an appealing sight to a farmer used to nourishing summer rain. For those who stayed, it meant planting and raising crops during the wet winter and springs months before the seasonal summer drought parched the fields.

In the 1840s, Americans began hitching up wagons in a western movement to an idyllic California that promoters heralded as a Garden of Eden and#8220;free of disease.and#8221; In his 1840 book, and#8220;Two Years Before the Mast,and#8221; author Richard Henry Dana wrote California was and#8220;blessed with a climate which there can be no better in the world; free from all manner of diseases, whether epidemic or endemicand#8230;and#8221; Lansford Hastings, an Ohio attorney whose popular book extolling the virtues of Oregon and California (which also included the ill-advised shortcut that contributed to the Donner Party tragedy), inspired thousands of pioneers to head west. He wrote robustly about California’s climate and the health of its inhabitants: and#8220;No fires are required, at any season of the year, in parlors, offices or shops, hence fuel is never required, except for culinary purposes.and#8221; He also stated: and#8220;The best evidence that can be adduced, in reference to the superior health of this country, is the fact that disease of any kind has seldom been known.and#8221;

Even medically trained doctors got into the act. In his book regarding the climate of Southern California, Dr. Peter C. Remondino wrote: and#8220;From my personal observations, I can say that at least an extra ten years lease on life is gained by a removal to this coast from the Eastern States; not ten years to be added with its extra weight of age and infirmity, but ten years more with additional benefit of feeling ten years younger during the time.and#8221; The rhetoric would certainly have appealed to George Donner, captain of the Donner Party. George was 62, with a 44-year-old wife and five young children, when he and his family left Illinois in 1846. Living longer to watch your children grow up may be one of the most compelling magnets of all.

and#8212; Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at You can reach him at

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