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

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

2018 California Wildfire Update – Is This The New Normal?

Last Year’s Disaster

During the massively destructive 2017 wildfire season in California, certain phrases kept being repeated. “Unprecedented”, “Uncharted territory”, “Historic”, “War zone”, “New normal”, and other descriptive phrases were used to try and give people an understanding of the magnitude and severity of the fires. People hoped 2018 would be different, but “New Normal” seems to be an accurate description of what we can expect from wildfires in California.

This Year’s Activity (So Far)

California governor Jerry Brown has started to get lawmakers and the public to brace for the increasing threat of wildfires. He was recently quoted in a SacBee article, saying that fighting wildfires in the state is “going to get expensive, it’s going to get dangerous, and we have to apply all our creativity to make the best of what is going to be an increasingly bad situation.”

Around a quarter of California’s annual fire suppression budget has already been spent; even though the fiscal year just started July 1st. Simultaneous large fires are also spreading resources thin. As of this writing, 16 large uncontained fires burning a total of 343,700 acres continue to to challenge California firefighters. The largest and most destructive of these fires is the Carr Fire near Redding, which claimed 6 lives and destroyed over 1,000 homes. It already ranks as California’s 6th most destructive wildfire. In fact, half of California’s 10 most destructive wildfires have happened in the last 4 years.

National resources are also spread thin, as the National Interagency Fire Center has upped the National Preparedness Level to 5 (out of a possible 5), indicating that resources are already fully committed to current fires. New fire starts will have a higher potential for large growth, as there will be limited resources to stop the fire before it gets established.

NASA image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project. Image taken August 1, 2018.

 

California Active Large Fire Facts

 

Wildfire near home in Possum Kingdom, TX

Will wildfire risk impact my home insurance?

Over the last thirty years, the length of wildfire season has increased by nearly 20% around the world. In California, the idea of wildfire ‘season’ is nearly laughable as large growth, damaging wildfires happen year-round on a regular basis now. While wildfires can happen just about anywhere, the western US States are usually at greater risk for experiencing wildfires. Higher rates result from this increased risk and, in some areas, the insurance companies may not offer coverage at all.

Why is wildfire coverage important?

Home built in the WUI

Many communities are building farther into the wilderness (Credit: Google Earth)

As approximately one-third of homes in the United States are in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), insurance companies are updating what is and is not covered in cases of wildfire. Insurance companies may factor in wildfire history in the area, home construction materials, vegetation, and topography, for example. In a few of the highest risk areas in the country, some insurance companies have opted to avoid writing policy coverage at all!

When structuring your policy, be sure to ask questions to know what is covered and how you are protected in case of wildfire. Policies may cover additional living expenses (ALE, in case damages or loss make your home uninhabitable), fire department service charges, or repairs and debris removal after a covered loss. There may be an additional option for fire insurance specifically for your non-primary residence. Different carriers offer different protections and add-ons, so be sure to know what you need.

What property features are considered?

Construction materials, surrounding vegetation, and landscape features are a few considerations when determining wildfire risk. (Credit: Oregon State University)

Construction materials, surrounding vegetation, and landscape features are a few considerations when determining wildfire risk. (Credit: Oregon State University)

Vegetation, alone, on your property isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Insurers will typically take into account the location and type, as well as density, of the surrounding vegetation. Fire stations and hydrants near your home alleviate some levels of risk as there are preventative resources near the home should a wildfire emergency occur. Topographical features could play heavily on your potential extra costs. If you live in or near notable high risk areas, such as a canyon or the deep woods, additional insurance charges may be added to cover the increased risk to your home from wildfire. Roof type, along with eaves and siding materials, may also play a factor. For example, a wood roof (even if treated) is at much higher risk of catching fire from embers than a clay tile roof.

Homeowners can ensure they maintain significant defensible space that can help slow or stop a wildfire from spreading to your home and property.

Can I do anything to help protect myself?

Do not be discouraged! There are steps you can take to help make your home more fire-resistant. Programs like the Wildfire Partners Program out of Boulder County, Colorado, give homeowners a property assessment with specific tips, updates, landscaping, and removals that decrease their risk to a wildfire. Additionally, some insurance companies have specialists that perform consultations and provide the homeowner a report with recommended improvements to eaves, patios and decks, roofs, and vegetation. In areas with high wildfire risk, insurance companies may require this kind of consultation and follow up work in order to authorize writing the policy. As always, be your own advocate, and take the first steps to giving your home the best chance of survival from a wildfire. However, if you choose to live in a high wildfire risk area, be prepared to pay a bit higher premium to have proper insurance coverage in case of a destructive wildfire.

Source(s):

https://disastersafety.org/wildfire/preventing-fire-damage-other-roofing-tips/

http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Defensible-Space/

http://www.wildfirepartners.org/our-program/

 

CalFire Finds Cause for Fire Siege, But Questions Remain

The legal battles begin as California still reels and begins to recover from what became the worst fire season in living memory last year. CalFire released a report on the first of several fire investigations from 2017’s northern California fire “siege”. The investigation specifically covers the four fires in Butte and Nevada Counties: La Porte, McCourtney, Lobo, and Honey fires. Investigators determined that tree branches coming into contact with power lines caused all four fires. In three of the fires, with La Porte being the exception, CalFire found Pacific Gas and Electric in violation of Public Resources Code section 4293, which concerns tree clearance management along power lines.

The ramifications of these and future investigations could end in big payouts by Pacific Gas and Electric for structure losses caused by the fires. The Napa/Sonoma Fire Siege, which included about 170 individual fire starts, caused an estimated $15 billion in damages. If Pacific Gas and Electric is found responsible for the fire starts, they could be on the hook for a large chunk of those damages. Property law can get pretty tricky when dealing with privately run public utilities. In the past, utility companies were able to pass the cost of damages along to ratepayers as part of providing service, but a recent case with San Diego Gas and Electric may put an end to this practice.

Historical Precedent: San Diego Gas and Electric

2007 Witch Fire

Regulators, investors, insurers, and homeowner victims are closely following the now decade-long legal process following three massive fires in San Diego County in 2007. The Witch, Guejito, and Rice fires together destroyed 1,300 homes and left San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) with a $2.4 billion bill. The utility company and its insurers already paid the damage claims, but SDG&E is trying to recoup about $379 million of its losses through a structured increase in the ratepayer bill over 6 years. They argued that the wind event was unprecedented and so severe that the fires could not have been avoided. The California Public Utilities Commission disagreed and rejected the plan, stating that SDG&E was not a prudent manager of its infrastructure. CPUC was clear in their statements that their decision does not represent SDG&E’s current wildfire management. SDG&E has since invested heavily in wildfire planning, intelligence, and response.

The positive changes at SDG&E are precisely the reason that the California Public Utilities Commission does not want to allow utilities to pass the damages to the ratepayers. It would disincentivize the utility companies to invest in better wildfire prevention.

Investors worry that the SDG&E decision will set a precedent to determine if PG&E will be held liable and if they can force ratepayers to cover the cost. Whether Pacific Gas and Electric will be found responsible for a majority of the losses in the larger Napa/Sonoma fires is still unclear. Even if they are found liable, who will pay?

 

Source(s):

http://calfire.ca.gov/communications/downloads/newsreleases/2018/2017_WildfireSiege_Cause%20v2%20AB%20(002).pdf

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-utility-wildfires-20171017-story.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/for-a-look-at-pg-e-s-fate-after-fires-watch-this-san-diego-case

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-sdge-wildfirecaseruling-20171130-story.html

http://www.cbs8.com/story/37043932/lilac-fire-powerful-debate-over-sdge-cutting-off-electricity

 

This Friday, May 4, 2018, aerial image released by the U.S. Geological Survey, at 12:46 p.m. HST, a column of robust, reddish-brown ash plume occurred after a magnitude 6.9 South Flank of Kīlauea earthquake shook the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Kilauea Volcano Continues to Erupt

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted last week Thursday, May 3rd, breaking open rifts and opening lava vents. While Kilauea has been continuously active for the last 35 years, this recent episode occurred alongside a 6.9 earthquake. Nearby neighborhoods were evacuated as fissures began releasing lava that spread throughout Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens.

This Friday, May 4, 2018, aerial image released by the U.S. Geological Survey, at 12:46 p.m. HST, a column of robust, reddish-brown ash plume occurred after a magnitude 6.9 South Flank of Kīlauea earthquake shook the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Kilauea Eruption – Friday, May 4, 2018, 12:46 p.m. HST (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Due to the rate that lava spreads compared to other typical natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfire, people were able to safely leave their homes. Photos and videos show the progression of destruction through the neighborhood as the lava pushes through homes and new fires ignite. One homeowner had been working on a car on his property and was unable to move it out of the way, but the true loss — the R2D2 mailbox his daughter had made him for Christmas. The impact was caught in this time-lapse video.

Fissure locations under Leilani Estates

Fissure locations under Leilani Estates east of the main active crater

Confirmed losses from Kilauea

As of May 10th, 36 structures have been destroyed, mostly in the Leilani Estates area. Despite the overall ongoing spread of lava, scientists are now warning area residents that ballistic projectiles may be emitted in the next few weeks. This would occur as the lava sinks in the crater lake and interacts explosively with the groundwater. The “projectiles” could range in size from pebbles to boulders weighing several tons. With so many unpredictable dangers from these ballistic projectiles to poisonous gases of the lava and ash to earthquakes, homeowners who still have a home to return to will not be sleeping easily any time soon.

USGS is alerting nearby residents about the possibilities of ballistic rocks.

USGS is alerting nearby residents about the possibilities of ballistic rocks.

 

Read Further

  • http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/38087728/new-kilauea-eruption-triggers-house-fires-as-hundreds-evacuate-area
  • https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/10/us/hawaii-kilauea-volcano/index.html
  • https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2018/05/us/hawaii-kilauea-volcano-eruption-cnnphotos/index.html
RedZone Disaster Intelligence

How Can Technology Assist Insurance Carriers With Disaster Moratoriums?

Have you ever wondered how home insurance companies deal with writing new policies in an ongoing disaster zone? Well the truthful answer is they don’t. For instance, when a large wildland fire is threatening homes or has the potential to, insurance carriers place a moratorium on the surrounding landscape. A moratorium is a temporary, but indefinite hold on writing any new home insurance policies within the blanket area that is declared. The purpose of this practice is to stop new customers who aren’t covered for fire, or other disaster related damages, from buying a policy right before the home is damaged. The problem is the geographic regions that are typically chosen for a moratorium are too large. The regions that are chosen usually include areas that are not threatened by the disaster in any way shape or form. This leaves an undesirable gap in business for both the insurers and possible policy holders. Here at RedZone we like to focus on utilizing technology coupled with expertise to solve complicated problems such as this one.

Wildfire

                With advances in current wildfire modeling, insurance companies can have a more precise understanding of what is taking place on the ground currently, as well as what is likely to take place in the upcoming hours of the fire. Wildfire modeling accounts for the essential driving factors behind a wildfire so it can accurately depict where the fire is heading. You can read more about the aspects taken into account in RedZone’s Wildfire model here. By using a wildfire model, insurance companies can reduce the size of the geographic areas that are placed under a moratorium. Then the carriers will have an understanding of where the fire will be moving. This benefits both parties involved in many ways. If a home is not covered for wildfire, and a fire breaks out near the home it may spark an interest for the homeowner to obtain coverage on their home for fire. If the area that the home is located in is under a moratorium, the homeowner will not be able to purchase a policy for that type of coverage.

Canyon 2 Wildfire Model – first 24 hours without suppression

canyon2 final perimeter

Canyon 2 Fire Perimeter – shows the fire’s extent in the first 48 hours with suppression

Hurricane

                In the case of hurricanes, insurance carriers are even more precautious about writing new business when a storm of hurricane magnitude is approaching. The process of putting a moratorium in place for a storm begins when the National Weather Service declares a low pressure system to be of a tropical storm magnitude. You can learn more about hurricane formation and power at RedZone’s Blog on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Insurance companies immediately put a moratorium into effect for the projected zones that will be impacted by the incoming storm. These areas range from zip codes to counties and even expanding to encompass entire states that could possibly be impacted by the storm. A large portion of homes that are located in a moratorium of that size will likely not be affected by flooding or wind damage from the storm.

One of the ways that GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can help with this problem is with a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Dataset. When loaded into a GIS this data will depict what the terrain on the ground will look like. These elevation layers coupled with flood plain data would give an accurate depiction of the level of threat to a structure. What has to be taken into account is that each storm is different. The flood data chosen must accurately match the expected rainfall from the storm in the general location. One solution is to utilize the most severe flood data available, so that the estimations are on the safer side. Another factor that needs to be considered is the damage that occurs from wind during one of these events. GIS is capable of running buffers based on the projected storm path. A buffer coinciding with the relative wind speeds that are capable of damaging homes would be a safe way of creating more accurate moratorium zones during a hurricane. 

NOAA track Oct8

NOAA Potential Track Map issued Thursday Oct 10th, 8pm eastern

Source(s):

http://wiseinsurancegroup.com/insurance-moratoriums-binding-prohibitions/

https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2017/12/18/474612.htm

https://www.jebrown.net/content/169/brush-fire-moratorium

http://velocityrisk.com/commercial-insurance/moratorium-policy

https://www.propertycasualty360.com/2016/10/06/how-the-insurance-industry-prepares-for-hurricanes/?slreturn=20180326132445

road closure thumbnail

Incoming Heavy Rains Increase Debris Flow Risk Yet Again

The National Weather Service (NWS), Los Angeles Office is warning the region that sustained heavy rains are incoming for the majority of the rest of the week. The beginning of the rain is set to arrive today (Tuesday) and last well into Thursday. The “atmospheric river” storm is expected to bring between 5 and 10 inches of rain in the foothills and mountains, significantly more total rainfall than the 1/9 debris flow, which brought between 3 and 6 inches to the region. The NWS says this storm is projected to have the heaviest rainfall and the longest duration of this winter storm season. “All models indicate high confidence in rainfall totals and the duration of the storm.”

Rainfall forecast through 3/26

National Weather Service Precipitation forecast for the Greater Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Areas through the weekend. Recent Fires are seen in black on the map as worry grows about debris flow potential.

Debris Flow Risk for Santa Barbara County Burn Areas

We caught Monday’s press conference from Emergency Officials with Santa Barbara County, who are stressing the seriousness of the renewed threat flooding and especially of debris flow.  Opening the discussion, Meteorologist, Mark Jackson warned, “A key worry with this storm is rainfall rates that can trigger debris flows. It’s not necessarily the total amount of rain that occurs; it’s how fast that rain falls.” Well, the latest meteorological models by the National Weather Service indicate that there is potential for rainfall intensity of between .5 to .75 inches per hour, which is enough to trigger debris flows at any time during the storm.

Recent Burn Areas tweet

NWS Los Angeles warning via tweet today that debris flows near recent fires are likely across the region

As a result, many residents downslope of Thomas and other fires in the region (seen as black in the map above & highlighted in the tweet below) have been evacuated or at least cautioned. Santa Barbara County is also managing and updating an evacuation map found here.  In addition, Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, warned the amount of rain and the intensity is enough to cause flooding even without the impact of the recent fires. “We could experience localized flooding and road closures which are not isolated to the burn areas. The threat of rock falls, mud slides and debris flow is high,” he noted.

“A key worry with this storm is rainfall rates that can trigger debris flows. It’s not necessarily the total amount of rain that occurs; it’s how fast that rain falls.” – Mark Jackson, NWS Meteorologist

Storm Facts:

  • Heaviest Rainfall for Ventura County to San Luis Obispo County is expected Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning (March 21 – March 22)
  • Heaviest Rainfall for LA County is expected Thursday into Thursday Night (March 22)
  • Rainfall totals for the Coasts/Valleys will be 2-5 inches, for the Foothills/Mountains more like 5-10 inches.
  • Flash flooding and significant debris flows near recent burn scars are likely
  • Urban and small stream flooding expected
  • Slight chance of main stem river flooding
  • Road closures anticipated due to rock fall in the mountains
  • Residents in the Extreme and High Risks areas of Santa Barbara County are required to evacuate at noon on Tuesday (March 20)
  • Mandatory evacuations prompted for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, and Sherpa Fires

Sources:

National Weather Service

Santa Barbara County Emergency Services

KSBY News

Wildfire 101: United States Fire Regimes

With climate change becoming more prevalent in recent years, science has been looking for ways to examine how changes to the earth’s present and past environment will affect the way wildfires will burn in the future. Fire regimes are a great start for looking into how climate change will affect the behavior, occurrence, and characteristics of how wildfires burn. According to Firescience.gov, the definition of a fire regime is “In general a fire regime characterizes the spatial and temporal patterns and ecosystem impacts of fire on the landscape”. Many characteristics of the environment go into shaping the fire regime in any given area.

Fire Regime Factors

Of the many factors within the environment that come into play when creating fire regimes, there are two critical aspects that shape how fires burn the most. The first of these two crucial factors is the dominant vegetation type within the ecosystem. Chemically, fires need three ingredients to burn, oxygen, heat, and fuel (vegetation). Therefore, if any one of these is removed an ignition cannot occur. History tells us that the type of vegetation is a key factor because of how large the difference in fire behavior is between fuel types. A second major factor involved in formulating a fire regime for a certain area is climate. The local weather patterns in an area have a huge impact on how a fire will burn through the geographic region in question.

fire regimes 48 states

Lower 48 United states classified into fire regime zones.

In the formation of these regimes, fire ecologists have used data regarding vegetation classifications pertaining to the dominant vegetation type in the area. This is combined with historical fire information such as, fire perimeters, and fire conditions to get an understanding of how fire acts within the landscape. Lastly, fire return interval rates are used to determine, on average, how long it will take to have a fire reoccur in a landscape that has burned.

Fire Regime Classification

Over the years fire ecologists have made many attempts at creating fire regimes for the United States using a variety of weighted combinations and factors similar to what was mentioned above. Recently, one group has emerged with the most thorough and up to date classifications of fire regimes. LANDFIRE has created a robust model that incorporates the historical aspect of past fires, and what is projected for the future of the landscape. This will provide a base platform for future research to see how wildfires occurrence, and characteristics are changing as the climate continues to change. Below is a map of the United States classified by each regions respective fire regime as well as, the legend that explains what each level of classification means for that specific area.

fire regime table

This table shows the characteristics behind the fire regime classifications listed on the map above.

Sources:

https://www.firescience.gov/projects/09-2-01-9/supdocs/09-2-01-9_Chapter_3_Fire_Regimes.pdf

https://www.landfire.gov/fireregime.php

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/fire_regime_table/PNVG_fire_regime_table.html