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Fog coming in on little cat feet? I’ll take it tule-style pouncing like a mountain lion
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

My first memory of ever being in — or more aptly passing through — the Valley came in 1988.

My best friend at the time and his wife had moved to Pleasant Hill and wanted me to spend Christmas with them.

The plan was for me to leave Roseville after I got off work at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve. A few hours before I was planning to leave a huge pile-in zero visibility fog on the Yolo Causeway shut down Interstate 80. 

I wasn’t about to chance the only other way I knew to get there — Highway 4 — through the Delta on a night when fog was pushing zero visibility. I called to tell them I wasn’t coming and why. They suggested instead I go over the Altamont Pass and gave me directions on how to get there using Highway 99.

As fog went back in the late 1980s, the perennial worst spots in California were a stretch near Fresno, the 120 Bypass and Highway 65 between Lincoln and Roseville.

Both were due to the Central Valley’s unique tule fog.

People who have never lived in the Central Valley and have resided in places with fog usually dismiss warnings about tule fog. Such cavalier attitude lasts until they get to experience tule fog first hand.

Tule fog typically starts appearing after the first significant rain of the rainy season. It radiates from the ground not the heavens or even still water. It is then trapped thanks to the 450-mile long Central Valley that is 30 to 60 miles in width being surrounded by mountain ranges.

The density of the cold and mountains taming the winds combined with higher pressure and warmer air above create the perfect conditions for tule fog.

You can drive up to Sonora in January and be in 68 degree weather with sunny skies. And then on your way home slip into fog blanketing the entire valley where temperatures don’t vary by more than five degrees during a 24-hour period.

Such was the case in January 1991. We had 22 consecutive days where we did not see the sun when I was living in Lincoln in Placer County. The days were grayish. Between the 45 degree temperature and the wet fog was downright bone-chilling. Yet for every one of those 22 days I was able to bicycle east out of Lincoln toward Auburn and pass the 800-foot mark to bask in crisp temperatures pushing 70 degrees without a cloud in sight.

Being a native of the Central Valley tule fog is part of life. 

So you can understand why I love it and fear it.

“Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” was the quintessential holiday song for me as tule fog meant Christmas was on its way.

The first triple fatality I ever covered was when I was 18 and tule fog had socked in the Valley. As any tule fog veteran will tell you, visibility is never more than an eighth of a mile and can quickly drop to 10 feet and down to virtually zero visibility in a matter of minutes given ground conditions play a major role and vary greatly.

The accident was at 10 p.m. at night on Highway 65. A semi-truck had slowed down due to 40 mph due to visibility conditions. A Datsun B-210 that the CHP estimated was going the speed limit slammed into the back of the truck. A minute or so later a van plowed into the B-210.

Tule fog can completely catch you by surprise.

In January of 2002 I had gotten up to workout at In-Shape for a 6 a.m. class. Leaving the gym at 7:15 a.m. the skies were clear and not a whisper of fog in sight. By 9 a.m., the fog was so thick that it sent visibility plunging to zero. That led to three separate pile-ups involving 28 vehicles that occurred within 15 minutes.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, fog is the leading cause of weather-related traffic deaths in California.

As streets and houses replaced the pasture and almond orchards, fog conditions have improved considerably. 

One of my favorite things to do is take a mid-morning jog along the edge of orchards pounding the moist dirt that borders the road when the fog has the valley encased in refrigerator weather with calm winds and a minuscule temperature variance.

It’s magical to see fog caressing the bare skeleton branches of slumbering almond trees or creating dew on pasture grass.

It also cleanses the air in a manner that is unique from the smell that pleases your senses after a fresh splattering of rain

That’s because it lingers longer and comes with the added bonus of miniature droplets of moisture that awakens your sense of feel as gently as the cleansed air heightens your sense of smell.

The late Herb Caen can have his San Francisco-style fog that emulates Carl Sandberg’s imagery of fog coming in on “little cat’s feet.”

I’ll take tule fog that pounces like a mountain lion and can strike fear and awe at the same time.

Respect tule fog like you would a mountain lion and you’ll be able to see things in a different — although somewhat grayish —light.


This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.