San Francisco's Famous Fog Spellbinds in Haunting Short Film

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge fog. (Photo: By titipongpwl/Shutterstock)

Clocking in at just under 2 minutes, Dann Petty’s "Hey Karl" is a moody — and rather moving — San Francisco fog porn masterpiece. Filmed over the span of four days and set to a minimalist electronic score by Spencer Harrison, this haunting short video really does have it all:

The Golden Gate Bridge enveloped in a dense, moisture-packed haze; the headlights of traveling cars breaking through a creeping, seemingly impenetrable mist; hillside homes inundated by an eerie atmospheric soup; empty, sunlight-choked city streets; the Pacific Ocean rendered completely and utterly grey; a pervasive yet benign urban dampness.

Watching “Hey Karl,” I felt a chill in my bones and a pang of nostalgia for Northern California and the Pacific Northwest (although this East Coast transplant certainly doesn’t miss driving through the stuff). All and all, it’s a lovely and effective tribute to San Francisco’s most (in)famous meteorological phenomenon, a phenomenon that Petty himself calls a “unique and inspiring sight.”

Grab the nearest throw blanket and have a watch:

But wait. Who exactly is Karl, then? And why is Petty hey-ing him?

Those who live outside the Bay Area or who are not on top of their weather-themed parody Twitter accounts might not be aware that Karl is the San Francisco fog.

Karl — or his Twitter handle, anyway — first emerged circa 2012 and quickly ascended to social media stardom in a city where numerous quotidian things such as seagulls and suspension bridges have been given voice.

Boasting more than 139,000 Twitter followers, Karl has proven to be a particularly popular voice, regularly musing on current events, life in the big city, professional basketball (he's a huge Warriors fan) and, naturally, the weather. Karl is also prone to routinely teasing and tormenting sun-deprived San Franciscans. Yet, he always does so with love. Well, most of the time.

Like any frequent social media user, Karl is also somewhat of an unrepentant narcissist and regularly retweets photos that others have posted of him. He loves basking in the spotlight, even when obscuring it. And as for all-important self-portraits, Karl also has an Instagram account.

Yet through all of the acclaim (Karl was singled out by Time as one of the 140 best Twitter accounts of 2012), cheeky corporate partnerships (he serves as Virgin America’s resident weather advisor) and a number of highly entertaining and at times poignant interviews, the human force behind San Francisco's most voluble weather condition has managed to maintain their anonymity.

While the identity of the account-holder remains a mystery, whoever Karl is has provided San Francisco's fog with a rich biographical background.

Heck, Karl has even opened up about his life for Medium: "Mom became the fog of San Francisco long before it was colonized. My dad married into the family business just months after meeting my old lady for the first time. They crossed skies while she was on vacation near the Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside in Oahu. She wore grey, he wore clumsy compliments."

Although a native of perennially patchy Point Reyes in Marin County, Karl is a seasonal resident of San Francisco, rolling in during the summer months to “protect people from sweating since almost no one has air conditioning.” Cole Valley, Mount Davidson, Grand View Park, and the Sutro Baths rank among Karl’s favorite haunts in the city.

When asked by ScoutMob to describe the perfect day, Karl responds: “Partly cloudy with a chance of regret." Karl goes on to describe his friendship with the Golden Gate Bridge as being “a love/hate relationship,” explaining that “I love devouring the bridge, the bridge hates me stealing its spotlight.”


While the anonymous fog dork(s) behind Karl the Fog are vigilant in keeping up the shtick (as they should be), someone did break character briefly for a 2013 SF Weekly article on the city’s wealth of parody Twitter accounts. While the voice of Karl was momentarily cast aside, the person’s true identity, including their gender, was still kept under wraps.

In the SF Weekly piece, the human responsible for Karl the Fog reveals that they were inspired to create the Twitter account by a faux BP public relations handle that emerged during the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. “It was the first parody account I followed and thought the idea was brilliant and that I could do something like it," explained the mystery man/woman. "I love the idea of blending fact and fiction and not knowing where one stops and the other begins."

As for the name Karl, it seems a somewhat random pick. Fiona, Frances and Frankie certainly have a more alliterative zip to them. As Karl the Fog's creator explains, the name is a direct reference to a character in the 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish.”

“Karl was the giant in town everyone was afraid of because they thought he would kill/eat them. Turns out he was just hungry and lonely."

“Karl is a constant character in our lives. ... Some people love how he keeps the city cool, others hate that we don't get traditional summers. They spot him from all over S.F. and many people have choice words for his arrival. Everyone knows and sees the fog.”

On that note, in addition to seeing and knowing, now everyone can drink the San Francisco fog as Karl has recently been captured — or harvested, rather — as part of a water conservation-minded booze-distilling operation spearheaded by Bay Area-based small-batch vodka-maker Hangar 1.

Well, not everyone. A taste of Karl doesn't come cheap as Hangar 1's "made of California" (Karl's essence was collected at Berkley Hills, Outer Sunset, El Sobrante and at San Francisco fog icon, Sutro Tower) Fog Point Vodka will set you back $125 per bottle.

This all said, Dann Petty's "Hey Karl" many not pair well with cranberry juice but is just as intoxicating — and won't leave you with a pounding headache in the morning.

Via [CityLab]