A couple of weeks ago I published a long story about climate change in Ventura County today but didn't mention shifts in the timng of Santa Ana winds. This despite the fact that from talking to Alex Hall of UCLA, a couple of years ago, I knew that evidence suggests that Santa Ana winds now can come later in the year than the fall. (Which was when we most experienced these notorious winds in the past.) And even though this shift had been confirmed by talks with representatives from the Ventura County Fire Department. Today a spokesperson for the VCFD commented on the winds and the major wildfire — the Camarillo Springs fire — we had this week:
"We're seeing fires burning like we usually see in late summer, at the height of the fire season, and it's only May," said Tom Kruschke.
It's a good example of the complexity of climate change, or a goof on my part, but in either case raises the question — what is going on with these winds? When I talked to Hall, he suggested that we may see fewer Santa Anas in September and October, and more later in the year. (Though he certainly didn't mention May!) He told KQED's Climate Watch in 2011:
“When you have a changing climate, the land surface is warming up a
lot more rapidly than the ocean, and that tends to weaken this
mechanism,” Hall told me. That could mean fewer of these seaward blasts,
at least during the winter months, as a kind of consolation.
“In trying to understand how fire will behave in the future, we have
to look at the effect of precipitation on the fuel loads and we have to
be looking at the effect of Santa Anas on fire behavior,” said Hall. “So
I think there are some really interesting questions to look at.”
Hall pointed out to me to another of Santa Ana virtues: Offshore winds tend to blow grit and dust into the ocean, adding nutrients, and cleaning the air. Change need not be disaster, in other words.
Another example of this was mentioned in the Los Angeles Times this morning. Despite consuming 28,000 acres of vegetation and forcing the evacuation of 5000 people, this fire hasn't hurt any person, and hasn't destroyed a single house. Given the scale of the blaze, that's darn impressive.