DISCUSSION: A large fire is currently burning in Ventura County in California. The Thomas Fire as it is named has currently burnt over 65,000 acres with no containment so far. The spread of the fire has even crossed U.S. Highway 101. The fire is currently burning at a rapid pace because of high winds with gusts around 40 to 50 mph (35 to 43 knots) as well as dew point temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit at nearby locations such as Sandberg and Camarillo. These conditions are prevalent as a direct result of the Santa Ana wind phenomena which is occurring with a very strong ridge over the Pacific Coast, consequently bringing high winds even to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The fire is currently threatening to reach the populated portions of Ventura County including the City of Ventura. Evacuations have been ordered for several cities near the fire such as Santa Paula. In addition, the radar for the National Weather Service Los Angeles office was put into standby mode due to the fire being within a few miles of the radar. Furthermore, the radar site at Vandenburg Air Force has registered the smoke on the radar at about 30 dBZ (decibels with respect to height) which is about the same reflectivity as a rain shower.
The fire is likely to continue spreading at an alarming rate over the next few days due to a continuation of the high winds which is driving dry air to flow over the area. The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the entire Los Angeles and Ventura County areas due to the high winds and low humidity until Friday at the earliest. Evacuation orders have been issued for over 40,000 residents and more orders are expected within the coming days due to the spread of the fire. Southern California Edison reports blackouts affecting over 250,000 customers in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties due to power lines going down because of the fire. Many schools in Ventura County have been and will remain closed due to the fires.
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© 2017 Meteorologist JP Kalb
Dangerous Wildfires Burn Across Southern California (Credit: NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard, Los Angeles County Fire Department. Photo Credit: NASA Earth)
Discussion: Dangerous Wildfires have spread across parts of Southern California due to Santa Ana winds, low humidity and dry ground conditions. Strong Santa Ana winds across Los Angeles and Ventura counties have caused two large wildfires to break out. Currently the Thomas Fire, Creek Fire and Rye Fire are burning across these two counties. The Thomas Fire has burned 50,000 acres, the Creek fire has burned 11,000 acres and the Rye fire has burned 5,000 acres and is 5% contained. Due to these fires, mandatory and voluntary evacuations have been issued across Southern California. Strong winds are expected to continue in the region until Thursday, along with low humidity values ranging from 6 to 15%, which will keep the risk for fire breakouts high. This is the strongest and longest Santa Ana event of the year. Red Flag Warnings are in effect until Friday across Ventura and Los Angeles. It is important to take steps to protect yourself from the fires and the smoke and to follow the safety orders given by the authorities. It is also important in these weather conditions to exercise caution when using items that could ignite a fire i.e. cigarettes, campfires and brush clearing equipment, as any small fire could spread rapidly. In the photo above taken by NASA Earth, it shows the smoke plumes from the fires.
Santa Ana winds are most often characterized as being hot/dry winds which blow in from the desert towards the coast. These winds tend to occur during the following time frame (between September to May) when the desert is cooler than the Los Angeles basin. For more facts about Santa Ana winds click here! (http://people.atmos.ucla.edu/fovell/ASother/mm5/SantaAna/santa_ana_faq.html)
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© 2017 Meteorologist Shannon Scully
DISCUSSION: As Northern California experienced wildfires that burnt at a devilish pace, the smoke from these fires impacted lives and events farther south. The smoke drifted heavily to the south because of a strong ridge of high pressure aloft which brought a northerly flow, which picked up the smoke and transported it southwards. A subsidence inversion at about 3000 to 5000 feet also influenced the situation by keeping the smoke trapped at lower pressure levels.
The smoke from the wildfires was very noticeable in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) had issued daily Spare the Air alerts during the event and forecasted the air quality to be unhealthy for the entire Bay Area until about October 18th. School districts have issued statements that students will not be outside for Physical Education classes as well as recess. In addition, the California Interscholastic Federation’s Central Coast Section, San Francisco Section, and Oakland Section made decisions to postpone many athletic contests due to the health concerns affiliated with the smoke. Football was heavily affected by the sections’ decisions as a full weekend of games have been postponed to the end of the season, which, then pushed the playoffs back a week. Visibility was also affected at most airports at various parts of the week including San Francisco International where there were delays around 90 minutes and longer. In addition, there have been reports that ash has fallen from the skies to land on cars and buildings across parts of the Bay Area especially in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.
The Bay Area was not the only area affected by the smoke. The smoke had also reached the Central Valley region including Fresno. The smoke had much less of an effect although visibilities dropped at times to 1 mile in certain locations as well as some athletic events getting cancelled. However, they had fewer days of heavy smoke due to an off-shore flow from the northeast which kept the smoke out.
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© 2017 Meteorologist JP Kalb
DISCUSSION: It’s a seemingly normal scene for those in California to see the onslaught of wildfires in the dry seasons of the year. 2017 was not shy to such and is still proving is has more to show its residents in terms of widespread fire activity. Of late much of this activity is attributed to the high winds and low humidities driving fires into some of the most sensitive areas, recently the Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties.
Of concern are the fires across Northern California, nearly 22 in total that have currently burned 170,000 acres with minimal containment in sight. 17 people are confirmed deceased due to the spread of wildfires this week with 11 attributed to the Tubbs fire burning between Calistoga and Santa Rosa at 28,000 acres. CalFire estimates 3,500 structures have been destroyed by the fires and evacuations continue as winds are expected to shift this evening.
There will be no relief in sight as wildfires continue to spread in California. The Pacific Northwest is expected to see a weak frontal passage bringing some precipitation however no rainfall is expected for the fires in Northern California. This frontal passage will bring higher northerly winds especially in the higher elevations with decreased humidity. Winds as high as 40 knots can be seen in forecasts. Areas of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties are currently under a red flag warning.
For more information on California’s fires visit the Global Weather and Climate Center!
© Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
Nearly 180 square miles of California’s wine country have been destroyed from wildfires. Over 2,000 structures have been destroyed causing massive evacuations in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. At least 15 people have died from the fires while another 150 people are still missing. Approximately 99,000 people are without power in the area. California’s Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. The fire started late Sunday night due to a series of lightning strikes rapidly growing from just 200 acres to over 68 square miles in less than 24 hours. Due to low surface dewpoints and strong winds, the fire was able to grow very quickly. Winds were measured at 60 mph in some areas of California. Unfortunately, dry conditions will persist at least through the next 5 days. Reports are noting that fires are 0% contained as of currently. Smoke from the fires is expanding into the surrounding areas that could cause difficulty breathing and low visibility. People traveling through or residing in the area should remain vigilant and heed the warnings. People should refrain from adding to the fires such as starting new fires.
The following is a statement from NASA describing the image above:
“NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, MODIS, instrument on October 09, 2017. Actively burning areas (hot spots), detected by MODIS’s thermal bands, are outlined in red. Each hot spot is an area where the thermal detectors on the MODIS instrument recognized temperatures higher than background. When accompanied by plumes of smoke, as in this image, such hot spots are diagnostic for fire. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC.”
Come back for more updates on the Californian wildfires here!
ⓒ 2017 Meteorologist Brandie Cantrell
Discussion: Red Flag Warnings have been issued for much of Central Oregon, as very warm temperatures and a chance for scattered thunderstorms over the area is present. With the chance of scattered thunderstorms, the lightning strikes could cause new fire starts. Thunderstorm activity is expected over the Cascades and eastward tonight. Although the thunderstorms will diminish tomorrow and Friday, there will be an increase in the wind speed. These gusty winds combined with lowered humidity will be a wildfire risk. During a red flag warning, it is extremely important to heed local burn bans, properly discard any cigarettes, and avoid activities that cause open flames or sparks. With the dry vegetation, warm temperatures, gusty winds, and low humidity it doesn’t take much to spark a wildfire! To learn more about fire weather and fire weather education, be sure to click here!
©Meteorologist Shannon Scully
DISCUSSION: Well into the summer season, California is seeing its typical dry weather also bringing concern and fear as wildfires become a part of daily norms. Southern California of interest as recently nearly 3000 are evacuated due to the Whittier fire in Santa Barbara County.
Reports from Cal Fire have indicated that 8 homes and 12 outbuildings have burned, all due to a fire having initiated in the Santa Ynez Mountains. According to the County of Santa Barbara, as of 0700 PDT, 18,015 acres have burned since the initial fire on July 8th, 2017. This fire is said to be 36% contained. Onshore winds are expected to increase in the vicinity of this fire which may decrease temperatures however dry yet warm air is expected to remain in the region. In particular, temperatures in the Santa Ynez Mountains may see highs in the low 100’s with overall low relative humidities the Whittier fire a very dangerous situation for those in the immediate area.
According to Cal Fire, 95% of California’s wildfires are caused by people, these fires and others in California are still currently pending investigation. Contributions to the spread of the fire also are increased by current weather conditions which include; increased temperatures, decreased humidities, drier than normal to drought-like conditions, and wind, which can account for the additional oxygen, a fuel to push the fire through land.
In San Luis Obispo county, residents are still observing the prevalent Alamo fire that has decimated 28,687 acres with a containment of nearly 95%. Burning since July 6th, this fire has consumed 1 home and damaged another with minimal fire activity expected continue with this fire as crews monitor the situation.
Of additional interest is the Garza Fire, in Kings County, burned 48,403 acres with a 72% containment. This fire has burned 1 minor building with no structures currently threatened. There are currently over a dozen fires in the state of California, for more information on wildfires, stayed tuned to the Global Weather and Climate Center for more information!
© Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
California, State Of. "Cal Fire." Cal Fire. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2017.
"Whittier Fire Information and Updates." Whittier Fire Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 July 2017.
DISCUSSION: Over the past 24 to 36 hours, there were increasingly more favorable conditions for greater and more widespread fire weather hazards across portions of Southern California. More specifically, there were strengthened southwesterly to southeasterly winds which brought drier air into the region which made dry grasses and regional shrubbery more susceptible to ignition. Despite there being fire weather hazards issued for the greater Southern California region, a wild fire did break out across parts of Santa Barbara County, California. As shown in the images above, the aforementioned wild fire was relatively large based on its size relative to the bright lights located to the south of the fire (i.e, lights emanating from the city of Los Angeles, California). In addition, note how well-dispersed the smoke plume was off to the southwest from the point-source of this wild fire. This southwesterly smoke plume dispersion adds a secondary concern factor to the situation based on the fact that particles within dispersing smoke plumes can impact the operations of aircraft engine turbines.
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©2017 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
DISCUSSION: With Spring in full force and winter well behind us by nearly 3 months Californians have slowly seen the decrease in precipitation that once became a consistent being within their forecast in late 2016-early 2017. While the persistent rains brought greenery, decreasing drought conditions, and increase water levels in reservoirs, it also brought flooding, mass destruction to US Highway 1 in Big Sur due to landslides (leaving residents and businesses stranded amidst their busiest tourist months to come).
However, as we move into the summer months bringing mild weather, coastal fog it’s a real possibility that the inevitable drought will reappear in the state. Residents, scientists, and researchers alike share a common belief that the 5-year drought to have plagued the state isn’t necessarily over despite the unprecedented rain received in the past 8 months. With drought and persistent weather conditions that enhance drought, there is increase fire danger particularly as the state transitions into what are climatically drier months.
Often with fire related dangers the National Weather Service can predict such conditions that may be optimal for fire behavior. These include the issuance of a Red Flag Warning or a Fire Weather Watch.
According to the National Weather Service a Red Flag Warning indicates, “that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now,… or will shortly,” typically within the next 24 hours. While a Fire Weather Watch suggests that “weather conditions could result in critical fire weather conditions which are expected to develop in the next 12 to 48 hours, but not more than 72 hours.
CalFire has recently states its alerts to residents for the state as dry conditions linger in the state. Conditions that you may wish to be apprised of are low relative humidity, strong winds, and even lightning strikes, the combination of these can add fuel to warm dry conditions to allow for wildfires to thrive. Please visit CalFire for current fire weather warnings and watches, safety, prevention and more!
For enhanced information on fire weather do visit the National Weather Service for a variety of data displays.
For more information on local fire weather and drought conditions visit the Global Weather and Climate Center.
© Meteorologist Jessica Olsen
Wildfires continue to burn across the Southeastern United States (Credit: National Interagency Fire Center, US Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast Fire)
Discussion: It has been a warm and dry start to the spring season in the Southeastern US. The above average temperatures have it feeling more like summer than spring. Along with those abnormal temperatures is the lack of any moisture in the region. Currently, the largest fire burning in the United States is the West Mims fire in Georgia. This fire is currently 18% contained was caused by a lightning strike and has burned 152,147 acres. With temperatures expected to rise into the 90s and relative humidity being in the low 20s, the risk for new fire starts is increased. In the state of Florida, seven different fires continue to burn. The largest of those seven is the Cowbell fire located in the Big Cypress National Preserve. It has burned 21,866 acres and is currently 75% contained. The majority of the other six Florida fires are between 70-90% contained.
High pressure is expected to build over the Southeast this week, which won't provide much help for containing these fires. This hot, dry weather combined with the drought in the area that has persisted over the southeast has not helped lower the risk for wildfires. To learn more about fire weather and fire weather education, be sure to click here!
~Meteorologist Shannon Scully