“The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread,
The trees like torches blazed with light.”
By J.J.R. Tolkien, from “Over the Misty Mont Cold”
I doubt J. J. Tolkien was writing about Santa Ana winds or the resulting fires. Nevertheless, the words are fitting. This time of year, as with late summer and early winter, conditions are ripe for such an event. Two weeks ago, the foothills received 2.05 inches of rain. As it fell, I felt relieved, thinking perhaps the rain had diminished our chances of fires. My hopes began to ebb as the temperatures reached 100 on several days since the storm. Is the fire danger less than it would have been otherwise?
In August of 1958, our family moved to La Crescenta from Glendale. The memories began with the long, hot and winding trip up Verdugo Road in a turquoise-blue Pontiac Chieftain, sitting between my big sister and a birdcage. We arrive, greeted by not only a new house but also a “built-in swimming pool” (a novelty back then), enclosed by a bamboo fence. Okay, so where is the weather connection here?
Summer led into fall as we settled into the foothills. One very windy night, an eerie whistling sound came from the backyard, accompanied and carried by the roaring wind gusts. Thinking back, it was similar to the sound of a Native American flute.
I felt an element of excitement in spite of my mom’s uneasiness. Growing up in Kansas, winds could mean a tornado and seeking the closest storm cellar. But “… we aren’t in Kansas, anymore.” Welcome to Southern California and its Santa Ana winds, appropriately called “Devil Winds.”
As these warm, dry winds blew through the canyons from the northeast, they funneled through the bamboo fence, creating a true “wind instrument.” Tucked safely in bed, I listened to the wind and its “bamboo music,” innocent of any potential harm.
Our main concern in regard to the Santa Ana’s is fire. October brings heat, low humidity, dry vegetation and wind. Each year presents a different combination of these factors.
To find out what to expect, I consulted with Pat McQuaid, a fire behavior specialist. The following are the considerations and answers he gave me.
• Are we in an extended drought year? No, the past two rain seasons were above average, so plants and trees are not drought stressed.
• What was the nature of the rain event three weeks ago? Two point zero five inches of soaking rain was well absorbed, promoting plant growth and resisting ignition.
• Have the Santa Ana winds been persistent? No, these winds have been mild with a cool and moist onshore flow.
This is good news and, with a bit more rain and continued mild winds, we may get through this season unscathed.
Great weekend ahead with highs in the 80s and lows around 55. A cool down is predicted for next week. For now, umbrellas should remain in the closet.
Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.