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Tracking Santa Ana Winds During San Diego’s Wildfires

Evening Edition

Above: Steve Vanderburg and Brian D'Agostino, senior meteorologists with the SDG&E Weather Network, talk about a weather sensor network in San Diego County that's working to aid the fight against wildfires.

Aired 5/19/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.

GUESTS:

Steve Vanderburg, Senior Meteorologist, SDG&E Weather Network

Brian D'Agostino, Senior Meteorologist, SDG&E Weather Network

Transcript

A weather sensor network in San Diego County is working to aid the fight against wildfires.

The network pulls information from 149 weather stations across the county every 10 minutes, including data on temperature, humidity and wind speed, said Steve Vanderburg, a senior meteorologist with the SDG&E Weather Network. They also plan to add 12 more stations by next fall.

"We go so far as developing a web application that brings all of this information in real time to firefighters in the field," said Brian D'Agostino, a senior meteorologist with the SDG&E Weather Network. "

The Santa Ana winds that were at least partially responsible for last week's fires are very difficult to track, D'Agostino said. That's because the San Diego region has lots of different microclimates.

"In some areas just a quarter-mile away from each other might see winds with a 30 to 40 mph difference," he said. "What we do is take all this information, and by giving it into our operations, we're able to put our crews in the areas with the strongest winds."

State regulators blamed poorly-maintained SDG&E power lines in San Diego's back country for sparking the devastating 2007 wildfires. Since that time, SDG&E developed this tool.

Vanderburg said decisions to cut power several times during last week's fires were based on many factors in addition to winds.

"One is what are the weather conditions like right now in the backcountry on our various circuits," he said. "But two, what's the fire danger, what's the vegetation like. Is the vegetation conducive for large fire and rapid fire growth. Also, we send people out into the field ahead of time, before the winds even develop, to these areas that we pinpoint as the highest risk areas. We then get their observations in real time."

Brendan Price and Claire Trageser contributed to this story.

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