East and Gulf coast residents can breathe a cautious sigh of relief. It’s the statistical end of peak hurricane season. A season that has broken numerous records as the least active in recent history. But, as it is with Mother Nature, she’s always finding ways to balance out the mayhem. Seasonal changes in weather patterns may be a blessing for some, but to others on the opposite side of the country, it’s time to get ready.
Look out West Coast. Here come the dreaded Devil Winds!
“Devil Winds,” or more officially, “Santa Ana winds,” are dry and strong winds that descend over the mountains of Southern California, plunging into the picturesque valleys, hills and canyons from San Diego to San Francisco. They are most common from the end of September through December as high-pressure systems make seasonal shifts.
The region is a tinderbox almost any time of year, but with the arrival of the feared winds, a nuisance wildfire can explode into a raging inferno, consuming everything in it’s path, including high end real estate placed on bone-dry hillsides. The terrain is a nightmare for firefighters, and high winds often shut down aerial suppression.
Already this fall, at least one Santa Ana related fire has broken out. The Fontana Herald News reported a 200 acre fire near Fontana on September 25. With drought conditions already in place, firefighters may be facing a dangerous season.
California has a long history of disastrous and deadly wildfires driven by Sana Ana winds. The largest wildfire in modern times was the Cedar Fire in San Diego County in October of 2003. The fire scorched over 430 square miles, destroyed over 2,800 buildings and took the lives of 15 people. The deadliest fire occurred on October 20, 1991 near Oakland, striking an urban area. Over 3,500 homes were destroyed and 25 people were killed. In addition to civilian lives, Santa Ana fires have killed scores of firefighters. California fire records note that the October 26, 2006 Esperanza fire near Twin Pines killed five firefighters and The Griffith Park wildfire in Los Angeles killed 29 firefighters in October of 1933.
According to the National Weather Service, Santa Ana winds originate from high-pressure systems over the Great Basin and upper Mojave Desert. As the already dry air mass descends through the atmosphere and passes over mountains, additional moisture is wicked away with relative humidity dropping sometimes below 10 percent. As the air mass plummets over Southern California, it rapidly spreads out through canyons and hillsides, sometimes reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour.
Fire officials advise residents of Southern California to remain alert for explosive fire development, especially when high winds are present.
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