Wildfire In January, The Current Weather Conditions Precipitating Wildfire

Jan 19, 2021

Fire season in California is now year round. That was very apparent locally when multiple fires ignited in Santa Cruz County late Monday, prompting evacuations. KAZU News reports on the weather conditions that precipitate wildfire.

In January, we look forward to rainfall on the Central Coast. But as Brian Garcia at the National Weather Service explains, that hasn’t happened this year so far. 

“We look for these fronts to come in, bringing us rainfall. Well, the pattern that we set up for this last weekend was actually quite opposite of what winter typically brings us,” said Garcia, who’s a warning coordination meteorologist.

For a wildfire to ignite, typically weather watchers look for three things: low relative humidity, strong winds and dry conditions. Garcia describes the winds we experienced this weekend this way. 

“To see this strength of offshore wind event in January is very unusual,” he said. Adding, “The magnitude at which we got these offshore winds is just astounding to see this time of year. Not only that, but the scope in which it covered the entire Bay Area from all the way up in Mendocino Lake and Sonoma Counties, all the way down across Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.”

And as for the dry conditions... 

“A lot of the fuels are still relatively dry for this time of year,” said Garcia. “They aren't bone dry like they are in September, October time frame, but they're very dry for this time of year.”

A Wind Advisory will stay in effect for the Bay Area and Central Coast until 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 19.
Credit @NWSBayArea on Twitter

So far, the region has received about 30 percent of average rainfall. Meteorologists like Garcia say we still have a lot of wet season to get through, the rainy officially ends September 30, and the rain could still come. 

“If we do make up this deficit, it's going to be probably more in March, April time frame. So we're all hoping for that miracle March, because right now it doesn't look like we're going to get any significant rainfall for the foreseeable future.” Garcia said. 

But ultimately, it’s not the conditions that start a wildfire.

“Barring any lightning, humans are the only cause for fire starts. It can be 100 mile per hour winds and if there's not a spark, there's no fire,” said Garcia.

He calls it the human factor. 

 “It could be anything from downed power lines to somebody trying to mow the lawn at the wrong time,” Garcia said. 

His advice? Don't be the spark that starts the next fire. And if you see a fire start, report it as fast as you can.