Large fire activity picked up over the weekend, especially in the Southwest and Alaska areas. Currently the 30 active, large fires across five states have burned more than 65,000 acres bringing the total for the year to 550k, well below average for this time of year. This week could increase that total as high pressure is approaching the West Coast and will provide a warming and drying trend for most of the southern West. Breezy westerly winds are expected across Arizona and New Mexico and strong northeasterly winds with some of the lowest RH readings of the year across California. In tandem, the conditions will lead to elevated and critical fire weather concern (including red flag warnings) in many places.
Tropical Storm Bertha
Just a couple weeks following Tropical Storm Arthur forming off the Atlantic coast, another storm system formed off the coast of South Carolina. Prior to formation, the storm caused flooding in Florida after dumping almost 15 inches of rain over Miami. Read more
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has wreaked havoc on too many activities to count. Add storm chasing to the list! Springtime usually brings all the excitement for the daredevils running towards monstrous storms and tornados. This year, storm chasers not only face the danger of unpredictable weather events, but also the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has shaken several types of storm chasers. Solo goers who chase as a hobby, businesses that chase with tours, meteorologists and/or professors that chase for research and reporting.
The last couple weeks have brought rain to the majority of California, but unfortunately, most of the state remains in a rainfall deficit. With the exception of the San Diego area, which is above normal, the rest of the state gets progressively drier as you move north.
Reservoirs are Full but Northern California is Still in a Deficit
The state’s largest reservoirs are located across Northern California and the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. These reservoirs are currently at or above historical averages for this time of the year, but the snow pack that feeds these stockpiles are measuring just over half of their normal levels for the season. Across the rest of the state the story is similar. San Francisco, for example, has only received about 50% of the normal rainfall for the year. April precipitation is not expected to alleviate this deficit, with most forecasts predicting a dryer than normal month. This does not bode well for some of the dryer portions of the state trying to catch up. Many areas need triple digit increases in the average rain totals to make up for the shortfall. San Jose tops this list, requiring an almost 500% increase in rainfall before the end of June, just to breakeven.
Despite the trend of unprecedented wildfire destruction and the predictions for another above average potential for significant wildfire activity, the 2019 wildfire season was significantly less destructive. 2018 recorded over 49,000 fires for a total acreage of just of 4.5 million. The total acreage burned was almost half that of the previous 2 years and short of the 10 year average by more than 2 million acres.
Just sixteen miles south of last week’s Saddleridge Fire, the Palisades Fire burned 40 acres between Palisades Dr and Charmel Ln in steep terrain yesterday afternoon, quickly spreading and prompting evacuations of a neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. Fortunately, hard work from air and ground crews saved the 200 homes that were threatened from damage or destruction and all have since been repopulated. This morning’s incident briefing portrayed a mop-up and perimeter-control day ahead of the crews. A direct ground attack is the main plan for the two divisions, with dozer(s) cleared to improve a nearby fire road, and an Structure Protection Group working the previously evacuated neighborhoods.
Below are summaries from the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook, provided by the National Interagency Fire Center, for the period of October 2019 through January 2020. The full outlook can be located here which will give more in depth picture of US fire weather projection.
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. Historically, the worst fires in Southern California in terms of speed of growth and destruction are linked to these hot, dry wind events. The last two years, a strong and persistent Santa Ana event was a major player in the spread of both 2017’s Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara and last year’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu.