Strong winds expected in parts of Southern California later this weekend could cause damage and increase the risk for wildfires, as the season’s strongest Santa Ana event to date will impact millions in the region, warn AccuWeather meteorologists.
Santa Ana winds, which occur when warm air blows and picks up speed as they travel from the inland deserts toward the coast, can have wide-reaching impacts in the Los Angeles area during the fall and winter months. Preceding the wind event later this weekend will be Sundowner winds, which will blow through nearby Santa Barbara County.
While experts say the unusually wet weather that California has experienced over the last year can lower the overall wildfire risk in a Santa Ana event, it will not be a silver bullet in preventing fires altogether.
First up for the threat of gusty winds that can lead to an elevated fire danger will be parts of southern Santa Barbara County, as atmospheric conditions come together hundreds of miles away.
“A storm moving from the Rockies into the Plains is often a harbinger for offshore wind events in Southern California, and this weekend will be no exception,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jake Sojda.
Sundowner winds, which travel offshore from the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara County, are expected to occur through Saturday evening, with gusts as high as 45 mph. Higher-profile vehicles traveling on the scenic 101 along the coast might have to grip their steering wheels a bit tighter to start the weekend as the winds blow.
Besides triggering dangerous travel conditions at times, the strong winds will also be dry, leading to other hazards.
“Since the wind descends from the deserts, they will be very dry which can lead to extreme fire risk,” said Sojda.
That risk for fires will expand farther south later in the weekend as the Santa Ana event unfolds from Saturday night through Sunday in the mountains and valleys of L.A. and Ventura counties, AccuWeather meteorologists say.
During the height of the event late this weekend, winds in the range of 40-60 mph will be common, with a few higher gusts likely. The AccuWeather Local StormMax™ is 85 mph, most likely occurring in the highest elevations. This will make the Santa Ana event a moderate one, but more importantly, the strongest of the season thus far, after a much lighter event unfolded earlier in the fall.
Winds of this magnitude can easily cause minor damage and toss around light objects, such as Halloween decorations. Trucks traveling on portions of Interstates 5, 10 and 15 even run the risk of being blown over in some of the stronger gusts.
The dry, warming winds will raise the fire danger to an elevated or even critical level despite all the rain the Golden State has seen over the last calendar year.
“This time of year, vegetation in California tends to be very dry; however, much of the state has been unusually wet over the last year,” said Sojda. “Because of that, the risk for wildfires may not be as high as in recent years, but it will still be elevated.”
A comparison of drought conditions in California, showing the drastic improvement seen this year (right) versus just over a year ago (left). (U.S. Drought Monitor)
Sojda warns that moderate or strong offshore wind events, like the one expected this weekend, can change fire conditions in the region quickly.
“The very low humidity associated with Santa Ana winds can quickly dry out vegetation and bring a higher fire risk,” said Sojda in addition.
As quickly as the strong winds arrive, they will begin to abate late Sunday.
“This event will be relatively brief, peaking late Saturday night into Sunday morning with the strongest wind gusts,” said Sojda. “Some breezy conditions, however, can persist in the most wind-prone areas in the mountains through Monday.”
In the meantime, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office in Oxnard, which serves the greater Los Angeles area, is offering some tips to prevent quickly-spreading wildfires. They include teaching kids about the dangers of playing with fire, not burning trash or brush, not parking vehicles on dry grass and not leaving hot grills unattended.
Produced in association with AccuWeather
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