Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Names for Fog

I’ve heard that Eskimos have 12 words for snow.  They live with it, they know it.   Here in central California we live with fog, we know saturated air like Eskimos know snow.  I sat down today and came up with 14 kinds of fog.

The official weather guessers of the National Weather Service have Patchy Fog. This is there term for “we don’t know when and we don’t know where, but there will be fog somewhere."   Below you see a weather forecast for a week.  Dosn’t really matter which week because we have had that same forecast for 3 months.

Patchy Fog clears from our view, the promise of another good day.  Photo by Laura

Low clouds is another term the weather service uses.  Well, yes I guess that is what fog is.  Thank you for that. 

a Low Cloud hits the coast. Photographer unknown

If it’s high above the ridges it’s High Fog.  This looks to people who don’t live here as an overcast sky.  It’s not that, it’s high fog.

There is the Creeping Fog that slides up the valleys or the Drifting Fog that just brushes the tops of the trees as it makes it’s way inland.  These are the prettiest fogs.  The way they move is like a woman walking slowly barefoot on the beach, you know where they're looking for shells or something, fun to watch in an unfocused, distracted kind of way. 

Sometimes when the fog drifts in, I have to get my pipes out and play Mist Covered Mountains. I won’t subject you to my playing of this lovely old tune, but listen to the Rankin Family’s vocal rendition here

Fog Creeps over the coastal hills of San Mateo County.  Photographer unknown

There is the Blowing Fog. That’s a name for a dismal condition where your sunny warm day just went to 50 degrees with a wet wind.  See the photo below for blowing fog in the begonia fields.  The children are not daunted.

Children, Blowing Fog and Begonias. Photo by Eric Lamascus

The Drippy Fog usually comes in the morning.  You wake to everything wet. You have to run your windshield wipers on the way to work.  Enough of this and you need to watch for Botrytis on your begonias.

In the distance the Fog Bank is a great thing. Glorious to look at with the sun shinning on it over the bay. The cool breeze from the fog bank keeps the temperature between 60 and 65. 

Fog Bank at Butano State Park. 
Photographer unknown

There is the Marine Layer. Technically most our fog is some kind of “marine layer” but by this I mean that invisible or barely visible fog that you mostly just feel.

Zak and Wally feel the Marine Layer at the beach while my wife takes a photo from Sunny the horse.

Zak in Begonia Fields of Marina with Marine Layer softening the light. (my favorite begonia picture) by Mike DeBoer

Thank whatever controls the Drifting Airs that we haven’t had any Non Stop Fog this summer. This is the fog we don’t like. The fog that doesn’t go away for days and days. It’s a type of High Fog.  Drifting and Creeping fogs don’t treat us this badly.  Sometimes all of July disappears under the funk of non-stop-fog.  Since we live in an off-grid house, the solar panels don’t charge and everything runs down.  There are no shadows and you can’t tell what time it is when you’re outside.  The whole day goes by as though it’s a long morning without coffee.  The next day is the same…and the next.  Mark Twain wrote "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."  Poor guy, he was here during the Non Stop Fog.

If you live here on the coast you don’t need to worry about Tule Fog. It’s the fog of the valley.  It forms in the winter after a storm clears.  It can last for days.  Up and down the valley its 35 degrees under a grey sky and stays like that for weeks.  Or the Tule Fog rises up out of the rice fields and lays thick on the ground.  Driving is difficult, you can’t see the car in front.  Sometimes you can’t see the front of your own car!  One time as I drove from Los Banos to Chowchilla, the fog was thick but only about 2 feet above the ground.  From my truck cab I looked over a huge sunlit sea of fog, the roadway perfectly and completely obscured.

Then there is our Thick Fog.  You run into this fog when you hit one of those Fog Banks that wandered ashore.  Little grey cars on the freeway disappear and become invisible.  (Don’t buy a little grey car if you plan to live here.) 

An invisibility cloak for grey cars.
  Photographer unknown

Thick fog is the brother to The Mist That Obscures. The dense inside of a grey beast.  Everything is unclear.  You can’t bring your focus on what’s around you at all. It makes you anxious but you don't know why.  There is this complete lack of clarity.  You wander unsure. You could wander off or be hit by something unseen (a little grey car for example).

Fog Obscures the Ridge we see from our porch. Photo by Laura

And that brings us around to The Mist that Reveals.  Against a still background things do focus better.  The mist that reveals removes the noise of confusion to show only what the light, humidity and the air wants us to see.  Like how a struck bell makes the following silence more profound, so the items in the mist are seen more clearly than by bright daylight. It forms strange lights that lure you to a moment of reverie.

Fog Reveals the Old Landmark Tree on the ridge. Photo by Laura 

a Revealing Fog Photo by Patrick Flynn
-Andy Snow

A note on the photos.

My dear wife is our family photographer.  She does a great job of chronicling our life.  She puts up some photos on her blog, and her facebook page.

Eric Lamascus is our friend and amateur photographer.  By profession he is a contractor.  We have used him and his crew on two projects and remain friends!   His web site here (on his web site see the "Island Style House" for our little house project)

Mike DeBoer is a friend and professional photographer. He has taken family photos for us a couple of times. His web page here.

The other photos I found on the internet by searching for the terms I used in the article like "fog bank" or "creeping fog" .  I found it amusing that others have the same terms for the same kinds of fog (but I am easily amused)  They were all taken here in Central California.


  1. I love this post. So true (and funny, too). Anybody living on the central California coast will totally get it.

  2. What about the fog that blows in with a night of good cheer?

  3. Well Bill, Let's just make it 15 and add the fog that comes from trying to decide whether you like Laphroaig or Lagavulin better!

  4. Enjoyable post! Having grown up in Santa Cruz, and always lived on the coast, and now living off the Juan de Fuca Strait in Washington state, I too am a fog watcher. And one of my favorites is the Finger Fog, or Snaking Fog, that weaves it's way sinuously down the sides of mountains in ever changing wispy fingers.

  5. Hi Liann,
    Thanks for your comment. We fog watchers need to keep in touch! Didn't we meet a few years ago at the highland games at Loc Lomand? Your sister was competeing, right?
    Regards -Andy