Heat to blast SoCal: Fire Weather

It’s going to be crazy hot the next couple of days here in Ojai (112 on Friday they say) and in coastal Southern California this weekend. In the words of Weather West (aka climate scientist Daniel Swain):

…in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, especially, the heat from Fri-Sun will be extreme due to the localized effects of the downsloping winds and associated compressional warming. Temperatures over 100 will be possible even close to the beach, and just 5-10 miles inland temperatures could approach 110. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara County will likely experience strong “Sundowner” winds, and the rest of SoCal will see some rare mid-summer offshore winds. Surface humidity could be quite low on Friday as the event begins, but will rise to potentially uncomfortable levels by later in the weekend. The National Weather Service expects widespread high temperature records to be set along the SoCal coastal plain this weekend, and an Excessive Heat Watch is in effect to account for this.

Note that mention of offshore winds. Santa Barbara especially is vulnerable to winds that can drive fire from the mountains down towards the ocean, such as the Painted Cave Fire in late June and early July 1990, which the state fire marshall at the time called “the fastest moving fire of its type ever in the United States.”

Stuart Palley, who specializes in taking pictures of wildfire and firefighters in the West, speaks of another devastating fire which struck two years ago, in July 2016, the Sand Fire. At the time temperatures in Santa Clarita were about 110, much as they will be Friday and Saturday, and winds were blowing out toward the coast, just as they will be on Friday and Saturday. Palley posts a picture of that horrific fire, (which like the Painted Cave fire was deadly), and thinks out loud about fire today in California.

The extreme heat wave starting tonight and resulting critical fire weather across Southern CA will create similar conditions to those around the Sand Fire, except it will be hotter with some offshore winds. I was having a discussion with a NWS Incident Meteorologist today and realized I have resigned myself to the occurrence of these destructive megafires in CA each year. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when (a new start in the Klamath that started 2 hours ago is already 500 plus acres, jumped Interstate 5, and forced the evacuation of an entire town). And the when keeps getting earlier and earlier each year. It’s the stark reality that’s driven by anthropogenic climate change and human-caused ignitions. As the years progress these fires will become less of statistical outliers and more commonplace unless we take action on climate change. The most important thing you can do is register to vote and educate yourself on the issues at hand. What kind of a world to you want to leave to your grandchildren?


Be careful out there folks!

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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