Wind, dry conditions increase risk for wildfires, power shutoffs for N. California

By Molly Burke, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Weather News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Winds are forecast to come to Northern California late Sunday and ramp up on Monday. The gusts, combined with droughtlike dry conditions, have prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to order shutoffs for thousands of Californians for a "public safety power shutoff," for the sixth time this year.

A low-pressure zone is expected to come across the northern coast, bringing some precipitation and humidity to the Bay Area on Sunday, before the winds come into the coast and Sacramento Valley.

While the National Weather Service has not issued any warnings, the weather has created elevated fire conditions. Parts of Placer and El Dorado counties will experience some of the worst winds. Close to the Sierra Crest and in higher elevations within the counties, sustained winds of 15 to 30 mph will be accompanied by gusts between 30 and 45 mph.

The dry conditions across Northern California have placed this year's precipitation levels anywhere from a quarter-inch to 2 inches below the average rainfall by this point in the year. The U.S. Drought Monitor said 75% of California is experiencing droughtlike conditions. Much of the little precipitation Northern California has experienced this year has been due to one storm in November.

Southern California experienced its own wind event this week, when Santa Ana winds triggered red flag warnings and precautionary blackouts. Fires that broke out in the region led to evacuation orders for thousands in Orange and Riverside counties.

California has experienced its worst-ever wildfire season this year — but fire threats in December, though rare, are a reminder to residents that fire season is year round.

Wildfires have always been part of life in California. The past four years have brought some of the most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the state's modern history.


Nearly 180 people have lost their lives since 2017. More than 41,000 structures have been destroyed and nearly 7 million acres have burned. That's roughly the size of Massachusetts.

So far this year, 30 people have died, according to Cal Fire.

Meanwhile, this year's August was the hottest on record in California. A rare series of lightning storms sparked a series of fires, including the August Complex that has burned nearly 1 million acres, making it by far the largest wildfire in California's recorded history.

The 2017 wildfire season occurred during the second-hottest year on record in California and included a devastating string of fires in October that killed 44 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 buildings in Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties.

The following year was the most destructive and deadliest for wildfires in the state's history. It included the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, and the enormous Mendocino Complex.

(c)2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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