How San Francisco’s Geography and Microclimate Affect Baseball

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Consider this: it has been a breezy, cool day. Later in the day, the fog comes in from the sea. The weather is such that a jacket is required. Based on the conditions being described, one could say this was early spring, or autumn. These kind of weather conditions were known to take place at Candlestick Park in San Francisco…………during the summer months. This is where geography and baseball come together. 

Fog surrounding the Golden Gate.  Photo: NPS, Presidio of San Francisco, public domain.
Fog surrounding the iconic Golden Gate in San Francisco while sun shines at the Presidio. Photo: NPS, Presidio of San Francisco, public domain.

For roughly four decades, Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants played their home games at Candlestick Park. The stadium was a place where baseball fans watched many of the games in damp, chilly weather.

Players considered the weather at Candlestick Park to be less than ideal as well. Another factor that would affect play was the wind. Outfielders would have to judge where a fly ball might go based on the direction of the wind. The intense winds often made it difficult to hit home runs. 

Location Matters

With all things related to geography, one can point to one of the 5 themes of geography. In the case of Candlestick Park, location is a theme to be examined. 

The New York Giants became the San Francisco Giants when the team moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958. The 1950s were the start of teams relocating to different cities. This involved some teams from the East Coast relocating to cities further west (one team moved east: the St. Louis Browns, who became the Baltimore Orioles).

The Giants were one of two teams to relocate to California (the other being the Brooklyn Dodgers relocating to Los Angeles). When the Giants first moved to San Francisco, they played in Seals Stadium, which was home to a minor league team, the San Francisco Seals.

It was a small stadium located in the Mission neighborhood. One major issue was lack of parking space. Meanwhile, a new stadium was being built for them, one that would include adequate parking. 

One of the issues that came with building a new stadium was finding land to build it on. San Francisco has a land area of 46.87 square miles. Land was found to build what would be Candlestick Park: an old quarry around Candlestick Point. The stadium was built in the southeastern portion of the city, where the land jutted out into San Francisco Bay.

Aerial view of Candlestick with a view of downtown San Francisco.  Photo: Carol M. Highsmith, public domain via LOC.gov.
Aerial view of Candlestick with a view of downtown San Francisco. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith, public domain via LOC.gov.

The Giants would begin play at their new stadium in 1960. The stadium’s location within San Francisco is a big reason why fog, heavy winds, and chilly weather were common during baseball games, particularly during the summer months. Local geography would become a major factor.

San Francisco is a peninsular city. It occupies the northern tip of a peninsula on the Pacific Ocean. This city is surrounded by water on three sides. San Francisco’s climate has strong maritime influences as a result. It is a city of microclimates.

Why Does San Francisco Have Microclimates?

A microclimate takes place with statistical climatic conditions differing from the immediate surrounding areas. It is officially listed as having a Mediterranean climate. A Mediterranean climate is described as warm, dry summers, and mild, wet winters. This is considered the climate of the Bay Area region. However, the city of San Francisco has several microclimates. The city’s terrain, and the ocean contribute to this. 

The cold California current flows past San Francisco is part of the North Pacific High. The air just above the water is cooled by this current. Upwellings intensify this by bringing cooler water towards the ocean’s surface. This ocean current produces relatively cold winds that blow across the city. Fog is also produced by the ocean current. 

Encroaching fog over the city of San Francisco.  Image; NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite, August 16, 2012.
Encroaching fog over the city of San Francisco. Image; NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite, August 16, 2012.

California’s Central Valley has its own contribution to San Francisco’s brisk conditions. During the summer months, temperatures in the Central Valley soar as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The difference in temperatures between the Central Valley and the Pacific Ocean creates a difference in atmospheric pressure. The difference in pressure draws wind and fog over the city of San Francisco. The wind is most pronounced during the afternoon and evening. Wind and fog move unabated through the Golden Gate, the strait between San Francisco and Marin County.

As a result, San Francisco often has the coolest temperatures of any American city during the summer months (however, it is often warmer than most American cities during the winter months. Average daytime temperature in January is 57 degrees Fahrenheit). There are, however, topographical factors that can affect which places experience cooler, winder conditions, and which places tend to be warmer.

Hills are a prominent feature in San Francisco’s geography. The highest hills are found towards the central part of the city. These hills contribute to the microclimates found in the city. One example of this is the Mission District. This is where Seals Stadium used to be, is one of the warmer parts of the city. Twin Peaks, among the highest hills in the city, blocks some of the fog from the Mission District. Other hills within San Francisco block some of the wind and fog.

During the summer months, this is one of the warmest and sunniest parts of San Francisco. Wind and fog permeate neighborhoods in the western portions of San Francisco. Neighborhoods in the eastern portion of the city are protected from much of the fog and wind. Any fog that reaches those areas does not descend very far down the hills. 

The hills that protect the Mission District from intense fog and wind play a role in Candlestick Point being one of the coldest, windiest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Alemany Gap is located in between Twin Peaks and San Bruno Mountain. This gap is essentially a mountain pass. Also within this gap is Bayview Hill. The gap behaves as a wind tunnel. Winds from the Pacific Ocean are funneled through the gap, streaming past Bayview Hill and towards Candlestick Point. Despite Candlestick Point being in the southeast part of the city, it experiences fog and wind as strong as one would find in the western parts of the city. Temperatures can vary within the San Francisco by as much as 10 degrees, within several city blocks. 

A Move to a Less Windy Stadium

In 2000, the Giants would begin playing their home games at Oracle Park, where they currently play today. Oracle Park’s location is in the South Beach neighborhood. While the stadium does get fog due to being next to San Francisco Bay, it is within a warmer microclimate than Candlestick Point. The stadium still deals with wind, but less of it than what was dealt with at Candlestick Park. One factor is how Oracle Park was designed. The ballpark was oriented to face the bay instead of the city’s skyline. Geography is given consideration when it comes to architecture. Oracle Park is an example of this.

Fans watching a game at AT&T Park.  Photo: Gryffyd Dempsey.
Fans watching a game at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park). Photo: Gryffyd Dempsey.

Geography had its effect on baseball within the city of San Francisco. Candlestick Park’s location within one of the windiest parts of the city made it infamous. The terrain shapes the microclimates of San Francisco. For this reason, it shaped the microclimate of Candlestick Point, where Candlestick Park used to be. A low amount of land available contributed to building a stadium at Candlestick Point in the first place. Geography often touches so many things in life, including baseball. 

References

Climate. (n.d.). NPS.gov (U.S. National Park Service). https://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/nature/climate.htm

Goldman, T. (2013, December 23). So long, candlestick Park, and thanks for all the fog. NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2013/12/23/256439579/so-long-candlestick-park-and-thanks-for-all-the-fog

Looking Back at the History of Candlestick Park. (2013, December 23). KPIX. https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/12/23/looking-back-at-the-history-of-candlestick-park/

San Francisco Giants History. (n.d.). MLB.com. https://www.mlb.com/giants/history/

Voiland, A. (2012, September 11). Another foggy day in San Francisco. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/79119/another-foggy-day-in-san-francisco

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