“The firefighters were really on top of things,” said Kristan Lund, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.
“There have been maybe a couple of tiny fires,” added Adam Roser, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in San Diego. “But we didn’t get many report of large wildfires from this event. We kind of escaped it.”
Lund said there was a lot of damage to trees from the high winds. The majority of the power outages, however, which affected more than 70,000 customers Thursday, were preemptive, to prevent power equipment from setting off new blazes.
The lack of fires exhibited the benefits of the preparations given the magnitude of the wind event.
The howling winds topped 70 mph in more than 20 locations in Southern California’s high terrain Thursday, including a gust of 89 mph in Browns Canyon, less than 30 miles north of Los Angeles.
At the same time, humidity percentages dipped into the single digits. At one point Thursday, the National Weather Service in Los Angeles reported that 218 locations were observing wind gusts over 35 mph and relative humidity values between 3 and 10 percent, creating “very strong and dangerous fire conditions.”
Red flag warnings, for serious fire weather conditions, were issued for much of the area from Ventura to San Diego between Wednesday and Friday.
The fires that flared up were extinguished quickly.
“Fantastic work by our well-prepared partners @Angeles_NF. Putting out small fires before they can grow into large ones is key during these high winds and very dry conditions,” the Weather Service in Los Angeles tweeted.
Before the onset of this high wind event on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Weather Service urged the public “to be extra cautious with anything that could start a fire.”
Late November is near peak season for Santa Ana winds, which develop when high pressure zones in Utah and Nevada force winds westward over the high terrain of Southern California toward the ocean. When they intercept the mountain slopes, they accelerate downhill and dry out the air. The dry, windy conditions can fan flames and trigger extreme fire behavior.
The fire threat late this week was heightened by warm and dry conditions this fall and a multiyear drought in Southern California, creating tinderbox conditions. The heavy rain and snow which ended the fire season in Northern California in October did not penetrate into the southern part of the state.
On Friday morning, as the strongest gusts had eased, the Weather Service in Los Angeles dropped wind advisories writing the that “Santa Ana event is on its last hurrah.”
However, red flag warnings remained in effect until evening due to pockets of elevated fire risk:
The Weather Service cautioned that the threat of fires would linger through the weekend in some areas.
“While Red Flag Warnings are not expected to be extended through the weekend, there will continue to be elevated to brief critical fire weather across Los Angeles and Ventura counties … especially interior mountain and valley locations,” it wrote.
In the coming weeks, there is elevated potential for more weather conducive to fires due to the ongoing La Niña event, which tends to favor dry conditions in Southern California, while most storminess is confined to the Pacific Northwest.