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Bay Area MapAbout Silicon Valley
Living and Working in High-Tech Heaven
Part III


Silicon Valley weather is mild most of the year. Many homes have only small, central furnaces, or wall or baseboard units. Few of the older homes have air conditioners. That's because the temperature rarely falls to bitterly cold or rises to miserably sticky. As they say, it's the humidity that gets you. It's low in Silicon Valley, especially in the summer; but I won't bore you with the dry-heat thing. For the current, five-day forecast, see it at The Weather Channel.

Lots of folks think that the whole of California is like they see on the "Baywatch" TV show: everybody happily running around the beach in skimpy swimsuits year round. But, Silicon Valley is in Northern California. It does get cold in Silicon Valley, but not "freezing" cold by Midwestern standards. Winter nights are especially chilly, but even most summer nights have a nip to them, particularly in San Francisco. (Mark Twain allegedly said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.") Silicon Valley is typically warmer than San Francisco, but cools down at night too. But that's an advantage in this former Midwesterner's book. Even when it infrequently hits 100° in the daytime, it almost always cools down at night, starting right around sunset. The disadvantage is, it makes a major decision out of deciding what clothing to take along on a day-through-night outing. On many Silicon Valley summer nights, you'll see lots of people wearing shorts with jackets and sweaters. "Layering" is the dress of the day pretty much year round.

If you're into the change of the four seasons, you may be disappointed. Silicon Valley sort of skips fall and spring, but you do see some signs of them. Spring comes early in Silicon Valley, but for the most part, there are only two, distinctly discernable seasons: wet and dry. In the summer, it doesn't rain a drop to speak of for months. Plants such as wild grasses turn brown and dry, and that's when forest fires may occur. Conversely, winter is the rainy season when many plants green up again, the opposite of several regions in the US. It may rain for weeks at a time, but droughts occur, too. It hardly rains buckets except in El Niño years, but rather just drizzles a lot. When it does rain buckets for long periods, flooding typically occurs in the valleys, along with mudslides in the mountains and foothills. But detectable thunder and lightening are so rare, people talk about them for days. In comparison to the rest of the US, tornadoes are rare too. While hurricanes off the coast of Mexico may have an influence, they are pretty much unheard of off the coast near Silicon Valley.

Snow is extremely rare in Silicon Valley too, except on the peaks of surrounding mountains. Even snow on the peaks is fairly rare, and it melts off in a day or two. Coincidentally, it snowed in Silicon Valley as I was researching to write this article. But, it only lasted a few minutes and didn't stick. Thanks to a blast of Canadian air, Silicon Valley was having an unusual cold snap with rain showers turning to snow.

Air Quality
Silicon Valley air quality is not real good sometimes, but not always bad either. "Bad air days" were less frequent in 1997, because of stricter standards and El Niño's influence. But, 1995-1996 were bad years, and carbon emissions increased nearly 20% between 1986 and 1996. Most of the air problems are from all the vehicles on the road, especially during commute hours. Car pooling has not been very successful in Silicon Valley, despite the faster commuter ("diamond") lanes on the freeways. Still, it's not as bad as Los Angeles, where you can literally see the dirty, oily particles sticking to your windshield.

California has some of the strictest air standards in the US, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is dedicated to enforcing them. Their latest techniques include higher penalties and the Spare the Air Tonight program for wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.

I've heard that it's not as bad as it could be, because there are frequent, year-round breezes that clean out the valley. Although it makes sense and I can personally verify the almost-constant breezes, I couldn't find any facts to back this up.

Earthquakes are a genuine threat to the entire state of California. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, you don't know when a quake might be coming. They're completely unpredictable. That's the scariest part.

California has the highest risk of earthquakes of any state in the contiguous US. That's because much of Western California is split by the boundary of the Pacific and North American Tectonic Plates, known as the San Andreas Fault. It's the main fault, but there are many smaller faults, too. There are also an unknown number of blind thrust faults.

But California will not fall into the ocean as many Easterners think. So, don't waste your money to invest in future, Arizona beachfront property! It's just one of the myths about earthquakes. The tectonic plates are not sinking. Rather, the Pacific Plate is creeping northwestward past the North American Plate at about two inches per year. In 10-million years, Los Angeles will be part of Silicon Valley.

It's when the movement stops somewhere along the plates that worries scientists most. One plate snags on the other, tremendous stresses build up, and eventually something has to give: a fault breaks, causing an earthquake. Sometimes aftershocks follow for days to months as the plates continue to readjust their positions. An aftershock can be worse than the initial quake.

Few people—even Californians—realize that dozens of earthquakes occur daily throughout the state, Silicon Valley included. They total up to an incredible 20,000 per year on average! But most are subtle at 2.0 or less on the Richter Scale. You usually don't feel a quake at 2.0 or less, unless you're close to the epicenter.

When detectable quakes occur, most Silicon Valley residents take them in stride, as long as major destruction does not accompany them. The last big one in the Bay Area was the Loma Prieta Quake seen around the world on TV, during the 1989 World Series. Silicon Valley didn't take that one in stride. It was a huge and very destructive 7.1 on the Richter Scale. Unfortunately, Silicon Valley is not in the clear for another 50 years or so, as some might think. Scientists say that the '89 quake was not the inevitable big one. It has yet to come.

As with any large, metropolitan area, Silicon Valley does have its crime. But also as with any metropolitan area, some areas have more crime than others, so it depends on where you live within Silicon Valley.

In Santa Clara, the frequency of most crimes dropped significantly from 1993 to 1997. According to the US Census Bureau, in 1991 San Jose ranked way down at #76 among cities with a population of 200,000 or more.

For the most part, the cities of Silicon Valley are below the national average. For example, San Jose has an crime index of 85, while the national average is 100; Menlo Park has an index of 40, while Palo Alto comes in at 31. To compare your city's index with the cities of Silicon Valley, see the Relocation Crime Lab at HomeFair.

On a more cheerful note, Silicon Valley is only about a five-hour drive from the camping, snow-skiing, boating and gambling areas of gorgeous Lake Tahoe, nestled in the Sierra Mountains on the border of California and Nevada. Reno is just another 59 miles to the north and slightly east of Tahoe. Of course, there's "the city by the bay" just about 50 miles north of Silicon Valley: San Francisco is an amazing city unlike any other.

Other cool places include the

There are so many cool places and things to do in or near Silicon Valley, it would take pages to describe them all. Instead, I'll turn you over to the sites in Just for Fun, part of Silicon Valley Career Resources.

It's not uncommon for employers to foot the bill for relocating qualified workers to Silicon Valley. Now that you know about the good stuff like the weather and job availability, and the bad stuff like earthquakes and a terrible commute, if you're thinking about relocating to the beautiful Bay Area, Living in High-Tech Heaven is an excellent resource. It includes a wealth of information and links about schools, weather, real estate, cost of living, and healthcare to name only a few. It's also a comprehensive job-searching guide. This superb site is provided by JobStar, a service of the California public library system. For similar sites, browse Silicon Valley Career Resources.

Silicon Valley
Part IPart IIPart III

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Bay Area map from Public Domain.
Copyright © 1998, J. Steven Niznik. All Rights Reserved.

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