The Washington Post

Drought, heat, wind spark destructive wildfires in Southern California

Firenado seen in San Diego County Wednesday via @FoxNews on Twitter
Firenado seen in San Diego County Wednesday via FoxNews on Twitter

A brutal combination of record heat, raging Santa Ana winds and drought is fueling devastating wildfires in Southern California. Some of the worst conditions are found in San Diego County, as Weather.com reports:

San Diego County remained under a state of emergency Thursday morning, as nine fires burned in a 14-square-mile area, fanned by hot, dry air and unusual springtime Santa Ana winds. Thousands of people have been evacuated and many schools across the city and the county have canceled classes until at least next week.

At least 9,000 acres of San Diego County have been charred.

Post Nation adds:

The wildfires had destroyed at least 20 buildings across San Diego, the county said Wednesday, with multiple homes devastated throughout the region.


Via NOAA-NASA:  “Numerous large wildfires burning across sections of northern Baja and southern California, are producing plumes of moderate to dense smoke and combining with blowing dust-sand moving west off the coast and well into the Pacific Ocean. This image was taken by the Suomi NPP satellite’s VIIRS instrument around 2025Z on May 14, 2014.”

A large area of sinking air in the Southwest underneath a gigantic ridge in the jet stream in the western U.S. is heating and drying out the air as it descends. And as this hot dry air passes over mountains in  Southern California, it is accelerating down the western slopes creating bursts of flame-fanning wind.

The fire conditions are no doubt worse as a result of a severe drought gripping the entire state.

As the hot, dry air and parched earth transforms Southern California into a tinderbox, new heat records are being set. Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters rounded up some of the heat records established Tuesday and Wednesday in Southern California:

For the second consecutive day, the Los Angeles Airport set a record for the hottest May temperature since record keeping began in 1944. Wednesday’s 96° beat the record set on Tuesday of 93°. Other all-time May record heat was recorded at Camarillo (102°) and Oxnard (102°) on Wednesday. In Downtown Los Angeles, the mercury hit 99° on Wednesday, falling short of the all-time May record is 103° set on May 25, 1896.

Further north, in Santa Cruz, Calif., the mercury soared to 100 its earliest 100-degree reading on record by a margin of three weeks according to the National Weather Service.

Another round of record heat, gusty winds (though less intense compared to Wednesday), and – thus – conditions favorable for wildfires are forecast today in Southern California.


(National Weather Service)

“The combination of hot temperatures, gusty Santa Ana winds and widespread single-digit humidity will bring an extended period of dangerous fire weather conditions to much of Ventura and Los Angeles Counties,” writes the National Weather Service forecast office serving Los Angeles.


(National Weather Service)

Cooler and less windy conditions are forecast Friday into the weekend – which should ease the fire weather potential.

Esri has created an interactive map below in which you can track fire locations, red flag (fire weather) warnings, shelters and more:

Below are some images and video from the fires which are scary and surreal:

Fire tornado video

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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