Southern California is experiencing its first strong Santa Ana winds of the season, which could create favorable conditions for fires and their rapid spread.
High wind warnings have been issued for most of the region, affecting around 15 million people.
“We have winds of 88.5 to 120 km/h. These are very strong and damaging northeasterly winds,” Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, told CNN. “At the same time the moisture level will be going down towards the mountains, valleys and coastal areas.”
According to Smith, from the Santa Monica Mountains and areas to the south, winds will be 40 to 60 mph, with possible winds of up to 70 mph in sloped areas.
The low pressure is in the perfect location to push strong northeasterly winds across Southern California.
The winds become stronger while passing through mountain passes and valleys. In this region, winds blow from dry desert areas, and as the winds move down the western slopes, the air becomes even hotter and drier. It can quickly absorb any moisture left over from the previous week’s rain, which is why the danger is so high even after a wet week.
The area had been drenched in rain the previous week, but according to Smith, it was not enough to quell the fire danger.
“The fuels remain receptive to rapid fire development in this region,” Smith said. “So with these high winds and moisture levels dropping on Wednesday, any fires that do break out are likely to spread very rapidly and display extreme fire behavior and a clear threat to life and property.”
San Diego recorded up to 9 inches of rain last week. Although the fire risk is not as great as other places, the risk of fire still remains.
“Relative humidity will generally be in the 20 to 25 percent range during a period of strong winds on Wednesday morning, dropping to 10 to 15 percent during the late morning and afternoon. A combination of strong high winds and low relative humidity on Wednesday to a period of severe fire weather conditions,” the San Diego Weather Service office said.
One of the biggest concerns is that trees will fall on power lines and start a fire. According to Smith, that threat can sometimes trigger preemptive blackouts.
“It’s a big cause of fires in our area, which is why a lot of the time, (utilities) shut off the power,” Smith explained. “It’s normal, although we’re not sure they do it with the recent rain.”
Residents are encouraged to participate in the Ready, Set, Go program implemented by Los Angeles County so that people are prepared for such events. Smith urges people to keep a list and a bag full of documents, medications, supplies for their pets, and other things.
Fire conditions should gradually improve through Thursday. But by the end of this week, another round of winds may hit the region. The Santa Ana winds usually occur during the colder months.