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Archive for July, 2008

California Wildfires

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Silverstein here.  I’ve been waiting for Tag to write something about the fires that have been plaguing us here in California, but so far, nothing.  What can I say?

It’s been going on for weeks now, the fires, but they really got started on Saturday, the week before last, the 25th.  On that day we had unusual thunderstorms that sprung up over much of California.  Those of you who don’t live here may not know that California has what’s known as a Mediterranean climate, meaning that we get our precipitation during the winter months of the year.  This sort of climate is unusual.  Ninety percent of the world gets more of its rain during the summer half of the year.  What this means here in California is that once April and May roll around, we won’t see any significant rain at all until the fall, usually November.  And, to compound matters, the rainy season this year really shut down early, starting in February–leading to very dry conditions much earlier than usual.  Then, what happened on the 25th was that we had thunderstorms–highly unusual for June–but the worst kind, dry.  In other words, there was negligible rain  that came out of these clouds.  From Tag’s house you could see rain falling, but it never made it to the ground; the air was too dry.  What was bad, of course, was that the thunderstorms still produced lightning, which is what set off the torrent of fires across our state.  Well over 1000 fires (I’ve heard quotes of 1400) across the state.

Although we could not see flames here at Tag’s house, what we did have was smoke and ash.  Compared to much of California we didn’t have it too bad because we sit next to the ocean and can usually count on onshore (from ocean to land) flow.  However, for a number of days last week that onshore flow was minimal and we had our share of smoke and ash.  Starting on Sunday we started to get onshore flow which has improved significantly our air quality in recent days.  Tag, who makes a big deal of keeping his cars in top shape, makes sure his cars are in the garage.  However, his sister-in-law, who works in the San Jose area (about an hour and a half north), reported that a clean car that she took to work one day was just covered with ash before long.

In terms of the local area, the two fires of consequence are called the Gallery and Basin fires to the south.  Big Sur, a small town about 25 miles to the south of Carmel, is threatened, although firefighters are making heroic efforts to keep the fires from encroaching on human settlements.  What makes it tough to fight fires there is the mountainous, steep terrain within those fires.

Being a meterologist, it’s fascinating to me to look at the unfolding situation from space.  NRL Monterey provides a gamut of imagery available on the web.  If you want to see a particularly impressive day for smoke in California, back on the 26th, click Here.  Note that this image may be at this link for only a week or so.  To access more NRL satellite images, click Here.

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