Meteorologists from AccuWeather are warning of the potential for strong winds that could lead to damage and an increased risk of wildfires throughout Southern California. This is expected to be the most potent Santa Ana event of the season, affecting millions in the region.
Santa Ana winds, characterized by warm air accelerating as it moves from inland deserts toward the coast, can have significant impacts in the Los Angeles area during the fall and winter. Preceding the weekend wind event, Sundowner winds will sweep through nearby Santa Barbara County.
While experts note that the recent wet weather in California may reduce the overall wildfire risk during this Santa Ana event, it will not eliminate the risk entirely.
The threat of gusty winds and heightened fire danger will begin in parts of southern Santa Barbara County as atmospheric conditions align hundreds of miles away. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jake Sojda explained that a storm moving from the Rockies into the Plains often signals offshore wind events in Southern California.
Sundowner winds, originating from the Santa Ynez Mountains in Santa Barbara County, are expected through Saturday evening, with gusts reaching 45 mph. High-profile vehicles traveling along the scenic 101 coastal route may encounter challenging driving conditions due to the strong winds.
In addition to creating hazardous travel conditions, these strong winds will be dry, increasing the risk of wildfires. As Sojda pointed out, the descending desert winds are exceptionally dry, further elevating the fire danger.
The fire risk will extend farther south later in the weekend as the Santa Ana event unfolds from Saturday night through Sunday in the mountains and valleys of L.A. and Ventura counties. During the peak of the event late this weekend, winds between 40-60 mph will be common, with occasional higher gusts. The AccuWeather Local StormMax™ is 85 mph, most likely in the highest elevations, making this the strongest Santa Ana event of the season so far.
Winds of this magnitude can easily cause minor damage and displace lightweight objects, including Halloween decorations. Trucks traveling on sections of Interstates 5, 10, and 15 could be at risk of toppling over in the stronger gusts.
Despite the ample rainfall California has experienced in the past year, these dry, warming winds will heighten the fire danger to an elevated or even critical level. Sojda explained that while California’s vegetation tends to be very dry at this time of year, the state’s recent above-average rainfall has mitigated the risk to some extent.
However, he cautioned that moderate or strong offshore wind events, like the one expected this weekend, can rapidly change fire conditions in the region due to the very low humidity associated with Santa Ana winds.
The strong winds are anticipated to arrive quickly and begin subsiding late on Sunday. Sojda expects the event to be relatively brief, with the most robust wind gusts occurring late on Saturday night into Sunday morning. Nevertheless, some areas prone to high winds in the mountains may still experience breezy conditions through Monday.
In the meantime, the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast office in Oxnard, serving the greater Los Angeles area, is offering advice to prevent rapidly spreading wildfires. This advice includes educating children about the dangers of playing with fire, refraining from burning trash or brush, avoiding parking on dry grass, and not leaving hot grills unattended.