Saturday, September 26, 2020

California Under the Gun, Again

Triple digit temperatures, high winds and low humidity are returning to California over the weekend and could ignite a second wave of wildfires across the state.

Red flag warnings have been issued across northern California from Saturday through Monday. “Even if you live on the coast or in the city, you’re going to feel the heat Monday,” Drew Tuma, a local ABC meteorologist, said. “I expect some places to hit 106F, 107F Monday – easily.”

Heat isn’t the only concern. Gusty winds and low humidity are expected to elevate extreme fire dangers into early October, especially as swaths of the state experience “severe drought”, according to analysts with the US Department of Agriculture.

In northern and central areas, the strongest winds were forecast to occur from Saturday night into Sunday morning, followed by another burst Sunday night into Monday. In southern California, meteorologists anticipate very hot and dry weather conditions with weak to locally moderate Santa Ana winds on Monday.

The heat isn’t just weather – it’s part of a trend. Nasa researchers who document the rising temperatures report that the fires and the conditions that cause them are going to get worse.

“Heatwaves are becoming more frequent, lasting longer, and increasing in night-time temperature and humidity, particularly in urban regions such as the Los Angeles basin,” reported Glynn Hulley, a climate scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who co-authored a study this year on increasingly intense heatwaves. Los Angeles recorded its highest temperature ever – 121F – in early September.

Hulley and his team raised concerns about a troubling upward trend in night-time temperatures. An overnight reprieve of cool air can help curb some of the impact of heat, giving firefighters the chance to contain big burns and vulnerable populations the ability to recover.

“The heatwaves that end up killing a lot of people are really warm, humid nighttime heatwaves, and they are going to become more common,” added Brian Kahn, a co-author on the study and researcher at the laboratory. “Night-time is normally your chance to cool off, but now there’s less relief from the heatwave.”

Firefighters have a message for the stay-behind crowd. Ignore the warnings but, from here on in, you'll be on your own. 

 Mike McMillan, spokesman for the federal incident command team managing the northern section of the August Complex, said fire officials planned to deliver a clear message that “we are not going to die to save people. That is not our job.”

“We are going to knock door to door and tell them once again,” McMillan said. “However, if they choose to stay and if the fire situation becomes, as we say, very dynamic and very dangerous, we are not going to risk our lives.”

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