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High Winds, Hot Weather Continue to Fan California Fires

13 Oct 2017, 9:37 am

[Image via NOAA of Coffey Park Mailbox, California Wildfire from John Larimore, Cal OES]

Devastating wildfires have burned through California’s wine country since October 8, taking dozens of lives and leaving thousands of people homeless. Even communities distant from the fires have been plagued by poor air quality, as the smoke plumes have darkened skies and canceled school and other activities across the region. More than five thousand structures are threatened by the complex of fires and dozens of evacuations have been instituted.

[Image from Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 of the fires near Santa Rosa. The images are composites combining shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and green (OLI bands 6-5-3) with natural color (bands 4-3-2) and a thermal infrared signature (TIRS, band 10). These combinations make it easier to see through the smoke to the burn scars and the still-active fires.]

The unrelenting weather isn’t helping. Forecasters say that low humidity, combined with gusty northerly winds and warm temperatures, are producing critical fire weather conditions that will persist through this weekend.

Fire Weather Outlooks from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center remain “Elevated,” and California weather forecast offices continue to issue Red Flag Warnings, signaling that local conditions remain favorable for extreme fire behavior.

[The Suomi NPP satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument captured a look at multiple fires and smoke in California on October 11, 2017.  The Suomi NPP satellite is a joint mission between NASA and NOAA.]

As of Friday morning, 17 fires were burning statewide with 221, 754 acres burned. Approximately 8,000 firefighters are working statewide. There have been 31 fatalities.

Wispy cirrus clouds obscure some of the fire and smoke from the wildfires that have consumed large portions of northern California around the wine country in the above satellite image.  The acreage that the most dominant fires have consumed has jumped significantly overnight.  The Tubbs fire had destroyed 28,000 acres Wednesday and the acreage has grown to 34,770 today.  The Nuns fire which had consumed 5,000 acres Wednesday has grown to 44,381 acres. Atlas was at 26,000 acres and today is at 44,228.

[Smoke from wildfires in California’s wine country was seen by NASA’s Terra satellite on Oct. 10.]

The Partrick fire had affected 6,000 acres and has grown to 12,379, and  the Redwood Complex which devastated 29,500 acres has now grown to 34,000 acres.  The California fires saw huge growth without much containment.  Most containment percentages of these fires remains in the single digits.  Weather seems to be the hardest thing for firefighters to deal with in trying to contain the flames.  The drought conditions over the past few months have created a tinderbox in the area.  Couple that with low humidity and the diablo winds (hot, dry offshore winds from the northeast that typically occurs in this area during the spring and fall) and fire containment is almost impossible.  A Red Flag warning remains over the entire Sonoma Valley/Napa Valley area for the next few days.

[NASA’s Terra satellite on Oct. 10. In the image, large areas of smoke appeared light brown and actively burning areas in red, as detected by MODIS’s thermal bands. Smoke blanketed Santa Rosa, Napa and Valejo, CA]

NOAA reminds residents to be safe, stay alert and please prepare and be ready to evacuate if directed by local authorities to do so.

Information taken from NOAA, NASA, and NASA Earth Observatory

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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