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In March 1936, an unusual confluence of forces occurred in Santa Clara County.

A long cold winter delayed the blossoming of the millions of cherry, apricot, peach, and prune plum trees covering hundreds of square miles of the Valley floor. Then, unlike many years, the rains that followed were light and too early to knock the blossoms from their branches.

Instead, by the billions, they all burst open at once. Seemingly overnight, the ocean of green that was the Valley turned into a low, soft, dizzyingly perfumed cloud of pink and white. Uncounted bees and yellow jackets, newly born, raced out of their hives and holes, overwhelmed by this impossible banquet.

Then came the wind.

It roared off the Pacific Ocean, through the nearly uninhabited passes of the Santa Cruz Mountains and then, flattening out, poured down into the great alluvial plains of the Valley. A tidal bore of warm air, it tore along the columns of trees, ripped the blossoms apart and carried them off in a fluttering flood of petals like foam rolling up a beach.

This perfumed blizzard hit Stevens Creek Boulevard, a two-lane road with a streetcar line down its center, that was the main road in the West Valley. It froze traffic, as drivers found themselves lost in a soft, muted whiteout. Only the streetcar, its path predetermined, passed on...