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Southern California Santa Ana Wind Events May Become Concentrated In Winter

KPBS Staff
Clouds over San Diego State University, Feb. 17, 2017.

San Diego researchers say the planet’s changing climate may be changing the risk of catastrophic wind-fueled wildfires during the winter.

The region’s infamous Santa Ana winds drove many of the most catastrophic wildfires, including local firestorms in 2003 and 2007.

New research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests warming global temperatures may reduce the chances of the wind events in the fall and spring. The chance of a Santa Ana event in December and January would remain the same.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher and co-author Alexander Gershunov said climate research also points to a declining chance of rainfall in the fall.

“You get more opportunities for wildfires to burn in December when you also have a greater chance of back-to-back Santa Ana wind events,” Gershunov said.

The peak wildfire season may be moving deeper into winter when a dry and windy climate create perfect conditions for firestorms.

“Basically, the season of Santa Ana wind activity is likely to get narrower in the future, in a warmer future. Part of that is related to the fact that the great basin is warming more than the coastal regions,” Gershunov said.

Santa Ana winds happen because cold air collects in the desert basin east of California’s mountains. That air gets pushed over the mountains to the coast when a high pressure system sits over the desert region. Wind speeds can hit hurricane force levels and create conditions that can push wildfires out of control.

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Southern California Santa Ana Wind Events May Become Concentrated In Winter
The season for Santa Ana winds may be shrinking, but the risk of dangerous wildfires remains.

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