DISCUSSION: On November 8, a wildfire began in Butte County, California as the area was under very dry conditions due to a lack of rain for much of Northern California. The Camp Fire, as it is known, spread rapidly as a result of dry conditions and high winds in the area. In its destructive state, the Camp Fire engulfed the town of Paradise as well as costing 84 civilian lives. The Camp Fire destroyed or damaged nearly 14,000 buildings many of which were single family houses. In addition, about 800 residents from the area affected by the fire were reported missing. The fire was officially contained on November 25 after burning over 150,000 acres of land. The cause of the fire is still under investigation as it was started right near the power lines of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in Butte County.
Among the meteorological conditions that helped the fire spread the smoke, was due to a persistent ridge of high pressure that was there for almost a month and a half. The ridge of high pressure was blocking much of the storms from the Pacific to climb up towards Oregon and Washington which led to the really dry October for much of Northern California. In addition, the ridge had played a factor in the smoke in the Bay Area as it kept much of the smoke blowing into the Bay Area rather than a sea breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Also, the ridge affected the smoke by keeping it close to the surface due to the subsidence, or sinking air, that is often affiliated with a ridge of high pressure.
The smoke from the Camp Fire had reached the San Francisco Bay Area on the same day and continued for almost two weeks due to a persistent ridge of high pressure over California. The smoke had caused major problems in the Bay Area such as causing the 2.5 μm (micrometer) particulate matter (PM2.5) to be measured at unhealthy levels which led to the cancellation of many schools and colleges as well as several high school football playoff games. In addition, the high levels of smoke and particulate matters led to heavily reduced visibility at airports including San Francisco International Airport where there were lengthy delays due to the visibility. The Camp Fire is the most deadliest fire in the past century in the United States since the devastating 1918 Minnesota fire in which over 400 people died.
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© 2018 Meteorologist JP Kalb
DISCUSSION: Over the past 24 to 48 hours, a good portion of central and southern California has witnessed some of the worst wildfire activity over the past 5 to 10 years and then some. As a result of this devastating wildfire activity, there is been a corresponding increase in the amount of smoke generated by the wildfire is which included the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire. The tweet attached above shows recent S-NPP VIIRS images which encapsulate recent views of the central and southern wild fire smoke plumes. It is worth noting that although the destruction has been nearly absolute in many towns and cities which has forever change the lives of thousands of people in the path of the flames, there is still more to the story than just the wildfires alone.
More specifically, the smoke plumes generated by the wildfires have been so dense at times the data nearly blocked out the sun during the peak times of the day across various parts of central and southern California. Therefore, as a result of this increased smoke presence via the wildfire persistence, this has led to air-quality issues as well due to the overwhelming amount of wildfire smoke which has persisted and enveloped parts of central and southern California. This is a serious health hazard for thousands and potentially millions of people in and around the immediate wildfire threat zone because of the variable presence of respiratory conditions such as asthma or lung defects. Hence, it goes without saying that the increased wildfire smoke is a real and legitimate threat to many people in the path of the regardless of whether they are in perfect health or a compromised health state.
For these reasons, it is imperative to heed the advice of local officials and listen to the recommendations from emergency management officials as well in terms of the actions you should take both during and ahead of any wildfire threat both now or in the future. There is no debate that wildfires are one of if not one of the most destructive natural forces on earth and should be taken incredibly seriously regardless of how near or far you are from a given wildfire which is occurring at a given point in time. However, if one is prepared for such an event, it can make surviving and mitigating the impacts much more likely in many cases. Thus, the moral of the story is to always be prepared and be ready for the worst but hope for the best.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz