RedZone Disaster Intelligence

October Brings Highest Risk of Destruction to California

This past weekend, from Saturday into Monday morning, much of the Northern California Bay Area was under a Red Flag Warning due to strong winds around 40 mph with gusts to 60 mph. Despite much of the country receiving some level of precipitation recently, California remains just above the drought threshold. The gusty winds and dry fuels the state sees every fall leads to heightened fire weather conditions this time of year. Fortunately, with this strongest wind event thus far this Fall, fire agencies across the region responded rapidly and en masse to any new reports of ignition.

“Of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.”

Transitioning out of Western Fire Season

Most of the Western fire season began the seasonal transition out of its peak in early September with fall’s cooler temperatures and precipitation. October and November mark another transition as the focus typically shifts to California  where fire activity remains a major concern with summer-dried fuels and occasional Foehn wind events develop across California until winter rains come.

October Fire potential

Significant Wildland Fire Potential for October 2018

Brief Look Back to October 2017

Monday, October 8th, marked one year since 21 major wildfires started across Northern California and devastated the Napa-Sonoma area. Collectively the fires burned more than 245,000 acres over the course of the month. The Northern California Firestorm, as it came to be called, destroyed nearly 9,000 structures and was responsible for 44 civilian fatalities and caused 14.5 billion dollars in damages.

The fire spread was remarkable as ember showers spread from house to house throughout several communities and the fires moved at record-setting speeds. Gusting and strong winds were an instrumental driving force behind the massive levels of damage caused by the conflagrations. What wasn’t record setting was this type of fire weather happening in October or later in California. As the table below shows, of the twenty most destructive wildfires in CA history, eleven of them have happened in October and another three in November or December.

14 top fires have happened in October and later

14 of the Top 20 Most Destructive California Wildfires have started in October or later

Obviously all that late season activity means, historically, the Western Fire Season is far from over in California. Fire Departments remain at full staffing, on the ready, with ears perked to every new start that could be the next big one…especially with the fire weather possibilities this time of year. RedZone does the same, and those of you in the insurance world reading this, so too should you. Those 14 wildfires have collectively caused tens of billions of dollars in damage over the years.

Read Further

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-ana-winds-20180925-story.html

https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/fire2/?wfo=mtr

https://www.kron4.com/news/bay-area/red-flag-warning-this-weekend-in-parts-of-bay-area/1502972515

Fire Regime

Five Years of Wildfires Devastate Lake County, an Insurance Risk or Opportunity?

With Lake County now holding the title of the largest fire in California’s recorded history, the Ranch Fire of the Mendocino Complex, it leaves one to wonder what exactly it is that’s producing the conditions for these enormous fires to thrive in this area. It has been estimated that in the last 5 years, over 55 percent of the surface area in Lake County has burned in wildfires. It has become an unfortunate understanding of the residents that have chosen to settle in this county that it is not if a big fire will occur, but rather, when will the next one occur. In regards to wildland fire, there are three main elements that are known to have the most impact on fire behavior: weather, topography, and fuels. Unfortunately for Lake County, the area has all three of these influential factors working against the fire regime of the area.

Fire History

This map displays all of the fires inside a 1 mile buffer of Lake County that reached over 100 acres since 2012.

Topography

Lake County is located in the Coastal Range of northern California, on the west side of the Sacramento Valley. Lake County resides in a mid-altitude area that is high enough above sea level to be above the influence of the marine layer, but not high enough in the mountains to feel impacts of the cooler upper atmospheric air. In  the center of the county rests Clear Lake, which is the lowest point in elevation throughout the entire area. Surrounding this geographic feature are seemingly endless mountains, hills, and valleys extending in every direction until they arrive in the northern reaches of the Mendocino National Forest. These areas of tremendous elevation variation are where fires tend to thrive. Fires are able to take advantage of these slopes to preheat the fuels up-slope from the fire, while simultaneously utilizing the convection column of hot gasses being funneled through these drainages to fuel the fire’s spread.

Weather

The local weather patterns of Lake County tend to have a negative impact on fire behavior in the area. During fire season, the predominate winds blow from the northwest, with the occasional shift coming from the northeast, bringing the warm and dry air from the northern portion of the Sacramento Valley into the area. On the extreme side of the spectrum are Foehn Wind events that cause extreme fire behavior when they occur. Foehn or “sundowner” winds bring hot, dry air into the area, with an uncharacteristic down-slope flow that allows fire to spread at unfathomable rates. When these events occur, fires can continue to burn actively through the night which is usually the time when fire behavior begins to moderate.

Fuels

Lake County is relatively diverse in terms of the vegetation species throughout the county’s boundaries. Nearly every major fuel type that exists is contained within the county including grasslands, oak woodlands, brush, mixed conifer forests, and hardwood forests. Due to the wide spectrum of vegetation species here, fires can range from low intensity grass fires, to extremely high intensity forest fires. The map below depicts the vegetation classifications throughout the entire county. Starting in the southern areas of the county, the predominate fuel type is comprised of annual grasses and oak woodlands. As you move up in elevation on both the east and the western side of Clear Lake, the fuel type primarily changes to a chaparral-based fuel bed. Progressing further north into the Mendocino National Forest, the dominant fuel type changes once again to one of a heavy timber, mixed conifer, and hardwood forested area.

Vegetation

This map depicts the vegetation types throughout Lake County. Visualizing this data clearly shows the predominant vegetation type shifting as you progress north, from the southern border of the county.

The reasons above are all variables in what seems to be a devastating half-decade of fire history for the Lake County region. The complicated wildfire situation in this area has been influenced by the recent years of drought, which has decreased the available moisture in the region, drying out the vegetation and furthering their susceptibility to fire. Lastly, Lake County has had an increase in residency due to increasing interest in the Napa/Sonoma Wine country. With more human influence comes the increased probability of fires igniting.

Insurance risk or Opportunity?

Will this information impact insurance companies when considering existing policies, writing future business, or even adjusting premium rates in this county? Does this amount of fire activity in such a small time frame deter insurance carriers from writing new business in these areas? These recently charred areas should be considered as an opportunity to obtain new clientele due to the diminished risk from wildfire in the upcoming years based off the lack of vegetation. Some factors to take into account would be the return interval rate of fire in each of these fuel types. This knowledge would give an estimation of how long that specific site will have before it is ready to burn if the new vegetation is the same species. For example, Chaparral brush which, is a large portion of Lake Counties fuel, has a highly variable fire return interval ranging from 10 to over 100 years. If properly managed an individual could easily keep fire from returning to the landscape for a long period of time. Another advantage of insuring homeowners in recent burn areas, is the opportunity to educate them with advice on how to manage the vegetation around their home as it begins to regrow. This would in turn, promote defensible space around the structure, and give the client a piece of mind that their insurance company cares for their home, while simultaneously protecting the insurers investment.

Sources

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Assets/County+Site/Fire+Safe+Council/cwpp/eco.pdf

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Government/Boards/lcfsc/LCCWPP.htm

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-lake-county-fire-epicenter-20180814-story.html

http://www.californiachaparral.com/fire/firenature.html

https://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-Foehn-foehn-wind.htm

https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Training/certification/CWMS/S-190-Intro-to-Wildland-Fire-Behavior.ashx?la=en

Flooding Woes Trending in the Wrong Direction

Back in April we outlined how Flooding is the by far the most common natural disaster and therefore the worst in terms of costliness, death, and destruction. Flooding woes come in many ways too, including long-term swelling lakes and rivers, storm surge and coastal flooding from Hurricanes and Tropical storms, and flash floods from downpours from severe thunderstorms. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey alone caused over 125 billion dollars, mostly from the widespread flooding across East Texas and Louisiana.

More Flooding Woes from Hurricane Florence

Yet another example of the ongoing cost of flooding was this month’s Hurricane Florence over the Carolinas. Five major watersheds saw an average of 17.5 inches of rain over four days, calculated to be the second worst in the last 70 years (second only to Hurricane Harvey’s 25.6 inches). The storm caused widespread flooding across a 14,000 sq mile area across both states. With two of the worst storms in consecutive years, leading meteorologists are blaming warmer oceans, more moisture and slower moving storms due in various ways to climate change causing tropical cyclones to dump more rain.

florence landfall lead to flooding woes

NOAA’s view of Hurricane Florence making Landfall near Wilmington, NC on September 14th

12 counties in North Carolina, where the storm made landfall near Wilmington, remain under varying types of evacuation orders as flood waters are either still cresting or very slowly receding. Consequently, nearly 300 roads are still closed across NC and neighborhoods in cities that thought they made it through the event unscathed are now being impacted. The toll on residents and infrastructure is estimated in the ballpark of 38 billion (and rising), making it the sixth costliest tropical cyclone on record.

Insurance Should Help, No?

Just as after last year’s Harvey impact (125 billion), flood insurance again has been a hot topic. With estimates of a million people dealign with flooding woes across the two states, it’s no surprise that in the aftermath of Florence there’s been a heap of national news coverage on the issue. If you google “Florence Flood Insurance” every article highlights the dire situation and elaborates on the fact that typical homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover most of the people (estimated at 85%) affected. The other 15% have opted in to their insurance plan’s specialized flood coverage or were informed enough to join the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Whether the others are uninformed, can’t pay, or don’t want to pay extra they are now (similar to Houston residents after Harvey) in what these articles are calling a ‘miserable’ fallout situation.

Rescued from flooding woes

Members of the 106th Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, drop from an HC-130J Combat King II aircraft during a rescue mission during Hurricane Florence, Sept. 17, 2018.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyle Hagan)

Florence, like Harvey, turned out to be less of a wind event and with flood excluded on most homeowner’s policies, experts from the insurer point of view are expecting to deal with a “manageable” and “insignificant” event. Of the $38 billion dollar bill, only an estimated $1.7 billion to $4.6 billion will fall on the insurance industry from Florence’s winds and storm surge (damage from which are covered).


Question: Who will pay for homeowners who want to rebuild their homes then?

Answer 1: The Homeowner

  •  Uninsured homeowners will have to pay out of pocket or get loans from the Federal Government to pay for repairs to their flood-damaged homes. The loans have to be repaid in full.

Answer 2: The Taxpayers (indirectly)

  • The NFIP is vastly under-funded by policyholder revenue and multiple loans and bailouts since Hurricane Katrina have the taxpayers regularly on the hook for billions of dollars in relief.

This New York Times article sums this up nicely.

Flooding affects the US populace, both coastal and inland, every year. Implications from flooding events are statistically worsening whether from continued warming oceans and climate change or something else causing these outlier events to be more regular. Flooding woes like this month’s Florence is life changing for a huge number of people and communities, and unfortunately, it seems it’s but a matter of time until the next one with the same storyline.


Sources

CBS News
NY Times
Insurance Journal
Think Realty
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
FEMA

ember zone waldo

Five Areas with Higher Wildfire Risk Than You Might Think

RedZone has highlighted five lesser-known areas where homeowners have increased wildfire risk

  1. Mid-slope areas
  2. Areas Adjacent to Wildland Fuels
  3. In the Ember Zone
  4. In Urban Canyons
  5. Proximity to Highway Grade

Mid-Slope

Mid-slope is an area commonly thought of as midway up a hillside, in this case, were using in terms of how it’s viewed in a wildfire-prone area. Homes are built and bought in these areas which are one of the least safe places to be during a wildfire. Typically, wildfires burn up a slope faster and more intensely than along flat ground. The steeper the slope the longer the flame lengths and faster-moving the fire.  Any slope can potentially increase the amount of heat a structure will be subject to during a wildfire, enhancing wildfire risk.

Not only is a home in this area more at risk, fire-fighting operations there are increasingly dangerous as well. Just one example from a few years ago, a mid-slope fatality is now a lesson learned from the Coal Canyon Fire in Fall River County, South Dakota. Essentially, firefighting orders will not allow for crews to work mid-slope assignments above a fire without large defensible space or a barrier/structure. Due to the adherent wildfire risk, both Fire Prevention Divisions and Underwriting guidelines suggest an aggressive vegetation modification and maintenance plan if the home or business is located mid-slope or at the top of a steep slope. The insured must also be aware of building materials used, especially if the structure is set back less than 15 feet.

mid-slope home is a wildfire risk

A worrisome home built along a mid-slope road near Lake Elsinore, CA


Adjacent to Wildland Fuels

It is well known that neighborhoods in or bordering the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), have a greater risk for impact by wildfire. In depth studies have learned that within those neighborhoods, homes on the outskirts have a higher risk than those located more interior. One of the main reasons why homes bordering the natural vegetation are at a higher risk of ignition is the lack of any buffer between the structure and the surrounding vegetation. These homes are located in extremely close proximity to the natural vegetation of the surrounding area and, thus, vulnerable to more direct flame impingement. This effect is exacerbated if the individual property owner has not taken the time to prepare his or her land for the occurrence of a wildland fire threatening their property.

Conversely, homes within the development have defensive barriers surrounding them. The inner structures have roads separating them from the structures bordering the surrounding natural vegetation and topography. These interior homes also are more likely to have moisture-rich vegetation such as, lawns, gardens, and manicured brush, making for more difficult sources of ember ignition.

The Sage Fire, near Simi Valley, CA is a good example of the homes located on the outskirts of these neighborhoods being at higher risk than the ones located within. As the fire made a push upslope to the ridgeline, it also spread out following property barriers on the outskirts of the neighborhood. The homes bordering the flame front were at a very high risk of the fire finding an ignition source to endanger it. Homes deeper into the neighborhood were less vulnerable because of the barriers aforementioned and those provided by the outlying homes. In the case of the Sage fire, no homes were impacted due to a small fire break in the vegetation immediately bumping the properties.

sage fire map wildfire risk

2016 Sage Fire burned between dense neighborhoods in Simi Valley, CA


In the Ember Zone

The “Ember Zone” can be defined as the area that could potentially have ember fall out due to a fire burning in the near vicinity. This zone can be up to a mile away from an active wildfire, depending on the size of the fire and wind speed. These embers are thrown from the fire and carried by the wind in the direction that it is blowing. If embers are hot enough and land in a receptive fuel bed, this can lead to an ignition of a spot fire ahead of the active fires edge. Spot fires caused by embers pose a threat because they sometimes go unnoticed for an extended period of time by fire personnel. This is especially the case when spot fires ignite at a distance away from the head of the fire.  The longer the new start has to become established, the harder it is for firefighters to respond effectively to save structures in the path of the newly ignited spot fire.

Another way the Ember Zone can pose a threat to a homeowner would be the process of the embers being blown into uncovered vents on the home, or an ignition source located near or inside the home, resulting in a fire starting in the structure itself. An example of how the Ember Zone proved catastrophic is in the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado. This fire experienced a drastic wind shift during the second operational period. This wind shift threw embers upwards of half a mile in the direction of the structures located in Colorado Springs. 346 homes were lost in the tragic fire of 2012, some of these were a direct result of ember fall out. Others were lost because of their direct contact with the active fires edge.

waldo 2013 wildfire risk

Embers contributed to many of the 346 homes lost on the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2013 in Colorado Springs, CO


In Urban Canyons

San Diego is known for its mix of wild canyons in between urban, even historic, developed neighborhoods. Most canyons have homes butting up adjacent to the canyon walls, due to San Diego’s unique mesa and valley/canyon landscape. These canyons offer convenient hiking trails and a natural landscape that is unique in an urban environment.  They also provide heavy fuels, steep slopes, and human activity that lead to dangerous fires that often threaten homes. A relatively small wildfire can threaten many homes in these environments.

Examples of wildfires starting in urban canyons:
  • Poinsettia Fire – Destroyed 22 homes and burned 400 acres. Fire started on a golf course and rapidly spread up the canyon.
  • City Heights Fire – Less than 2 acres, but came within a few feet of homes within an hour of a fire being reported.
  • Manzanita Canyon – Several instances of homeless cooking fires getting out of control in the canyon.
urban canyon brings wildfire risk

Homes with little to no defensible space in a San Diego Urban Canyon


Proximity to Highway Grade

If you are considering buying a home near a highway grade, you may get a nice view but could also be at higher risk for wildfires. Steep highway grades add additional complexity and stress on vehicles. Traffic collisions, mechanical failure, electrical issues, and fuel system malfunctions can cause vehicle fires that can extend to vegetation as well. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is an average of 152,000 vehicle fires per year in the United States. Poorly maintained vehicles, put under stress while climbing up or braking down grades, can break down. As the driver pulls over to the shoulder or off the road entirely, catalytic converters, brakes, dragging exhaust parts, or cigarette butts can ignite dry grasses along a highway. Also, improperly loaded trailers can drag chains; creating sparks that can ignite grasses as the vehicle passes by unknowingly. All of these things can happen at any point along a highway, but the added stress and heat generated by steep grades increases the likelihood of a fire starting and therefore wildfire risk.

Examples of large wildfires starting on major highways:
  • Blue Cut – Highway 15 along the Cajon Pass. Destroyed 105 homes and burned over 36,000 acres.
  • Springs Fire – Highway 101 along the Conejo Grade. Caused by an undetermined roadside ignition. Fire burned 15 homes but threatened 4,000 and burned 24,000 acres.  The fire burned until it hit the coast.
  • Grade Fire – Ridgewood Grade on Highway 101. Caused by a vehicle fire spreading to grass. Burned 900 acres.

SOURCES:

http://www.fire.ca.gov/fire_protection/downloads/redsheet/Jesusita/JesusitaReviewReport.pdf

http://www.firehouse.com/article/10469914/which-factor-is-present-in-most-wildland-firefighting-fatalities-and-burnovers

https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=3935

http://www.firesafemarin.org/topography

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Vehicle-Use/

http://www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/property-type-and-vehicles/vehicles

http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/TechnicalNotes/NIST.TN.1910.pdf

https://books.google.com/survivingwildfire

Hurricane Florence Starts its Assault on North Carolina

Hurricane Florence Current Situation

As of: 2100 UTC, Sep 13nd, 2018

  • Location: 100 miles ESE of Wilmington, NC
  • Size: Category 2
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 100 mph
  • Present Movement: WNW at 5 mph
  • Minimum Central Pressure: 955 mb
  • Impact: Up to 11 feet of storm surge, heavy rain causing flash flooding
  • Incident Page: NHC Public Advisory
  • News Article: WunderBlog

Hurricane Florence Outlook

Hurricane Florence has started to impact North Carolina’s barrier islands. As it reaches landfall, the storm has been downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane, but don’t let the category number fool you. Florence remains a massive and devastating hurricane. The storm continues to grow in area and is predicted to impact a large portion of the North and South Carolina coasts. Maximum sustained winds are hovering around 100 mph, with some higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm. Some coastal areas are already seeing storm surge flooding.  At the peak of the event, areas around river outflows could be dealing with storm surges up to 11 feet. The greatest storm surge inundation is expected between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras where river outflow will meet the storm surge inundation.  Inland areas are not necessarily in the clear from the damage. Significant flash flooding and prolonged river flooding could extend as far as the Appalachians through early next week as the storm moves inland.

Nearly 2 million people are under hurricane Warning. Authorities are cautioning residents in evacuation zones to get out because first responders will not be able to perform rescues during the storm. Power outages are already affecting around 100,000 people and are expected to get worse as this incident continues.

Click here to look back on this year’s hurricane season outlook to see how the predictions are panning out.

View of the storm path and cone of uncertainty.

 

Predicted Flash Flooding Risk

Hurricane Irma – One Year Later

  • Timeline: Aug 30 – Sept 13, 2017
  • Severely Impacted Areas: USVI, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Florida
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 180 mph
  • Fatalities: 52 direct (wind-driven debris, storm surge), 82 indirect (heart attack, house fires, vehicle accidents)
  • Damages: $64.76 Billion (5th costliest tropical cyclone on record)

Hurricane Irma’s Trek Across the Atlantic

This week marks the anniversary of Hurricane Irma forming and making landfall across the Southern United States. Tropical Storm Irma became a named storm on the 30th of August, 2017. It moved steadily across the Atlantic Ocean at 10-15 mph. A week later, now a Category 5 Hurricane, Irma passed by Puerto Rico narrowly missing it to the north. The storm continued skirting along the northern coasts of the Caribbean Islands including the Dominican Republic and then Cuba. Then, a glancing landfall moment happened along the North Cuban coastline, briefly weakening Irma to a Category 3 Hurricane as it turned north toward Florida.

Throughout Irma’s approach to the US Mainland, forecasts remained uncertain and models were not in agreement. Every update led to questions: would Miami or Orlando would be directly in the path, would the storm would move farther west and trail the Gulf Coast side of Florida, or would it shift a bit more west and come up the Gulf and end up hitting the Florida panhandle? One thing was certain – wherever landfall occurred, winds, rain, and storm surge were going to be affect a lot of people and infrastructure. Hurricane Irma ended up making landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane on September 10th, 2017, just south of Fort Myers along the SW part of Florida’s peninsula.

Hurricane Irma's path across the Atlantic Ocean (Source: WikiCommons)

Hurricane Irma’s path across the Atlantic Ocean (Source: WikiCommons)

Rebuilding Ongoing

While power has been restored and roadways cleared, many areas still see the impacts of these storms. The Florida Keys and much of Florida’s peninsula experienced hurricane force winds, nearly a foot of rain, and around 10ft of storm surge. Cleaning up the wide-spread damage is a daunting undertaking; however, FEMA, charities from around the world, and community efforts came together to assist residents to get their areas back to habitable conditions. By October 1st, much of Key West’s historical district was back in operation and welcoming guests. Nearer the main land, the damage was more extensive. Some businesses and homeowners have chosen not to rebuild and now those that had less significant repairs have vacant lots as neighbors. Each family has to make the best decision for their circumstances and many chose to shift to a new location rather than go through the extensive rebuilding process.

Damaged structures on Ramrod Key, FL after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. (Source: Joe Raedle)

Damaged structures on Ramrod Key, FL after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. (Source: Joe Raedle)

When coming home after a storm, reentering the region, property, and structure safely is important. Ensuring flooding conditions haven’t led to moldy conditions, debris is properly removed, and the structure remains sound are just a few common checks. FEMA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety shared Safety Guidelines useful to making this process as smooth as possible.

 

Sources

National Hurricane Center, The Weather Channel, FEMA

Autumn and Santa Ana Winds

Fall Means Santa Ana Winds

Annually, the onset of the fall and winter seasons brings the highest chance for Southern California’s famed Santa Ana winds. An unusually strong and persistent Santa Ana event was the largest factor in the spread of last year’s Thomas fire in Ventura (now second largest in size to Mendicino Complex). Much of Southern California experienced an on-and-off Santa Ana wind event for a little over two weeks, which contributed to the Thomas Fire burning a hot lap around Ojai and into Santa Barbara.

What Are Santa Ana Winds?

Typically Santa Ana air mass conditions are brought on by high pressure inland and lower pressure off the Pacific Coast which brings very hot and dry weather along with strong, down-slope winds.  Santa Ana winds typically happen between September and May, in the winter months. We think this UCLA FAQ outlines Santa Anas the best. In the past, the critical fire weather conditions that accompany Santa Ana winds turn the typically dry chaparral of Southern California into explosive fuel.  Some of the country’s costliest fires in history have taken place in these conditions.

Santa Ana Winds

Santa Ana Winds derive from High Pressure in the Great Basin

The Outlook This Fall

Typically, a weather event occurs by mid-September that brings moisture to regions experiencing significant fire activity which allows for the western fire season to begin to decrease in activity. All signs point to a normal seasonal progression including a transition from ENSO Neutral conditions to El Niño, therefore such an event is expected. Most regions will exit the fire season at this point, but only a brief lull is expected across California before it enters its fall fire season by October and November. Given ongoing dryness in the fuels, the fall season may very well be robust across portions of the state. Fortunately for the drought situation, Meteorologists are expecting an El Niño cycle to begin affecting the area with rains by November.  In the meantime, as the tropical air mass that has brought this summer’s rain gives way to autumn’s Pacific air mass, a few Santa Ana events should precede the El Nino’s wetting effect. 

 

Hurricane Lane Edges Closer to Hawaii

This year Hawaii has already experienced lava flows and earthquakes from the Kilauea eruption, now the state braces for high winds, flooding, mudslides, brushfires and even the possibility of tornadoes caused  by the approaching Hurricane Lane. Hurricane Lane became a named storm on Wednesday August 15th off the southwestern coast of Mexico. The storm gradually strengthened, becoming a hurricane by that following Friday. As the hurricane churned its way slowly westward, early forecasts were already predicting the storms turn towards the Hawaiian Islands.

Rare for Hurricanes to Make landfall on the Islands

Hawaii is normally protected from approaching hurricanes because of cooler waters around the islands. An additional buffer is provided by a high pressure system that sits over the state during the majority of the hurricane season. Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Hawaii since the 50s. Hurricane Dot (1959) & Hurricane Iniki (1992). It has been a slow year in the Atlantic, but this year’s warmer than normal waters in the Pacific Ocean has fueled storms. Hurricane Lane,  which briefly became a Category 5 hurricane on August 21st, is the 12th named Pacific Storm this year. The storm continued its track towards Hawaii with most forecasts predicting its path to skirt the islands before turning to the west. Lane weakened to a Category 3 on Thursday the 23rd but the outer bands of the hurricane began unleashing torrential rains over the islands. The Big Island recorded 8” of rain during these initial hours and landslides were already beginning to threaten homes and close roadways.

Hurricane Lane Current Conditions

Hurricane Lane continues to churn to the north, slowing its forward movement and dropping to a Category 2 today. The outer bands of the storm continue to bring downpours all over the islands with rainfall rates reaching 1 to 3 inches per hour. So far Hawaii’s Big Island has been the hardest hit, receiving 31 inches of rain as of this morning. Widespread flooding has inundated downtown Hilo and flash flood watches will remain in effect until at least Friday evening.

Evacuations have been issued for flood prone areas on the Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Maui. There have also been reports of power outages and mudslides have closed several roads. Forecasters are confident the storm track will have the hurricane skirting the islands. Landfall, however, isn’t the biggest worry as the slow movement of the storm greatly increases the amount of rainfall that will impact the already water logged and slide prone slopes.

Current Forecast Track for Hurricane Lane

Ahead of the Rains High Winds Spread Brushfires

High winds associated with Hurricane Lane are also caused of a brushfire that ignited around 1am Friday morning near Lahaina, Maui. Fire fighters are currently battling the 300 plus acre fire which has prompted evacuations and already impacted numerous structures. Another fire near Kaanapali on Maui threatened homes and burned down a banana tree patch before being contained. Maui is expected to get over 8 inches of rain today which should help to extinguish the fires and allow fire fighters to gain containment, but the burn scars could exacerbate debris flows.

After its westward turn Lane is expected to lose strength, dropping to a tropical storm. The threat to Hawaii, however, will continue well into next week as the storm continue to drop heavy rainfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mendocino Complex Fire Progression Map

The Mendocino Complex: An Update on Current Conditions

Mendocino Complex Fire Summary

The Ranch fire, which is being managed as a part of the Mendocino Complex, Started on July 27th on the north bound side of highway 20, east of Lake Mendocino. Fuels in this area consisted of grass, brush and Oak trees. The grasses along the highway led the fire rapidly becoming established and making a run upslope to the east. Due to winds in the area the first resources on scene were not able to catch this fire in its initial stages.

The Second fire being managed under the Mendocino Complex is the River Fire. The River Fire began on the east side of Old River Road, nearly 7 miles southeast of Ukiah, CA. Similar to the Ranch fire, the River Fire began in grasses and became rapidly established making a run up slope to the Southeast. The two incidents spread in a very similar manner for the first 3 days due to both fires burning in identical fuel types, and experiencing the same wind conditions during the initial attack phase. This is depicted very well in the fire progression map provided by the incident management team below.

Mendocino Complex Fire Progression Map

Fire progression map displaying the similarities in burn patterns for the initial 3-4 day period of these campaign fires.

Mendocino Complex as of August 16, 2018

The type-1 incident management team has been making significant progress with suppression efforts on these two fires. Currently the River fire remains with 48,920 acres burn and is 100 percent contained. The Ranch Fire has now surpassed the Thomas in acreage and claimed the title of California’s Largest Wildfire in recorded history. The Ranch Fire is currently 317,117 acres with 69 percent containment. The main influence of the Ranch Fire during the upcoming operational will be winds speeds. With the predominant winds coming from the west, the fire will continue push east. As these winds diminish this evening the primary driving factor of fire spread will switch to the local topography. This will likely change the direction of spread to the northeast. With the fire continuing to spread to the Northeast, there will be no shortage of fuel as it furthers its destruction of the Mendocino National Forest. Fire crews have constructed containment lines in this area and are preparing for a firing operation if the opportunity presents itself.

Aerial Imagery, Carr Fire, Mendocino Complex

This image shows both the Mendocino Complex and the Carr fire’s smoke column from a satellites view.

Mendocino Complex Fire Facts

  • As of: August 16th, 2018
  • Location: Clear Lake, CA
  • Size: 366,037 acres
  • Containment: 76%
  • Fire Behavior: Moderate Fire spread through heavy timber and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 1025
  • Structures Destroyed: 147 Residences/118 Other
  • Structure Damaged: 13 Residences/ 23 Other
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • Incident Page: http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/2175
  • News Article: ABC 7
RedZone Disaster Intelligence

Wildfire 101: Dead Fuel Moisture

Drought Conditions Worsening in California

This time of year in Southern California lacks significant rainfall; with fire activity at its peak a common term heard is “fuel moisture”. A light year in terms of rainfall has allowed Southern California to fall back into a significant drought. The wetting rains of two winters ago seem a distant memory. While that winter helped the state’s dried up reservoirs the lack of wetting rains since the beginning of the year has impacted the region and state’s fuel moisture levels, exacerbating the wildfire situation.

nationwide DFM

Nationwide 1000 Hour Dead Fuel Moisture as of August 12th, 2018

What is Dead Fuel Moisture?

Drought means there is increased potential for significant wildfire due to dangerous levels of dead fuel moisture. As explained by NOAA, fuel moisture is a measure of the amount of water in a potential fuel, and is expressed as a percentage of the dry weight of that fuel.  So if leaves and downed trees were completely dry in a given area, the fuel moisture level would be 0%.

When fuel moisture content is high, fires do not ignite readily, or at all, because most of the fire’s heat energy is used up trying to evaporate and drive water from the plant in order for it to burn. When the fuel moisture content is low (like in drought-stricken Southern California), fires start more easily and can spread rapidly as all of the heat energy goes directly into the burning flame itself. When drought is extreme and the fuel moisture content is less than 30%, that fuel is considered to be dead, giving us the “dead fuel moisture” designation.

Classifying Dead Fuel Moisture

The United States Forest Service which manages a nationwide fuel moisture index, classifies fuel moisture based on two metrics:  fuel size and time lag.

  • Fuel size refers to the actual physical dimensions of the fuel (i.e. the diameter of downed logs or branches).
  • A fuel’s time lag classification is proportional to its diameter and is loosely defined as the time it would take for 2/3 of the dead fuel to respond to atmospheric moisture.  For example, if a fuel had a “1-hour” time lag, one could expect its wildfire susceptibility to change after only 1 hour of humid weather.  Fuels with 100- or 1000-hour time lags would be expected to be much less resistant to humidity.

Fuel moisture is dependent upon both environmental conditions (such as weather, local topography, and length of day) and vegetation characteristics.  The smallest fuels most often take the least time to respond to atmospheric moisture, whereas larger fuels lose or gain moisture slowly over time.

The classifications of the Forest Services’s index (also known as NFDRS) are as follows:

Dead Fuel Moisture

The Dead Fuel Moisture Time Lag Classes as defined by the United States Forest Service

 


Source(s):

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/dyk/deadfuelmoisture

http://www.nwcg.gov/glossary/a-z

http://www.wfas.net/index.php/dead-fuel-moisture-moisture–drought-38