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Coast Life

Dry lightning fire concerns upgraded in Santa Cruz Mountains to a Red Flag Warning

Red Flag Warning takes place of Fire Weather Watch as the National Weather Service warns of events that could treacherously combine with dry fuel levels in the Santa Cruz Mountains and other areas throughout the Bay Area. Concern here begins Sunday afternoon.

A monsoonal moisture system that could deliver thunderstorms and dry lightning to the area late Sunday through Monday afternoon has prompted the National Weather Service to upgrade the concern level in the Santa Cruz Mountains to a Red Flag Warning.

The National Weather Service says 5 p.m. Sunday through 11 a.m. Monday “The moisture is expected to rotate in from the SE over Big Sur and rotate out to the NE over the San Francisco Bay Area through the event, potentially impacting a broader area.”

The result could be “gusty and erratic winds” combined with “isolated to scattered dry thunderstorms.” The potential impact: “Given the dry fuels over the higher elevations, any cloud to ground lightning strikes have the potential of starting new wildfires.”

The NWS’ update reiterated that this weather event does not hold the same level of concern as last August’s historic blaze sparker: “Despite the potential for widespread isolated to scattered lightning with this event, this will not be a repeat of the August 2020 lightning siege. That event was exacerbated by record heat & dry air as well as nearly double the moisture and instability due to the remnants of tropical storm Fausto. This time around, we are at near to below normal temperatures with no additional tropical influences, though drought-induced record dry fuels at higher elevations are still a cause for concern.”

Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Hajduk said Friday that local officials would be watching the storm’s development closely this weekend.

“The storm track is predicted to come through the Hwy 17 corridor and move into the North Bay. The city itself should be OK, but there is a very strong potential of multiple fire starts in our area and particularly across Northern California,” he told Lookout by email. “Fuels are incredibly dry for this time of year and are very receptive to ignition. In the county we have additional staffing and will be monitoring and responding to fires that occur.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation for Siskiyou County due to the Lava Fire and Lassen and Plumas counties due to the Beckwourth Complex Fire on Friday. Both fires have destroyed homes, caused the evacuation of residents and damaged critical infrastructure.

Earlier on Friday the NWS said the storm that sparked last August’s devastating CZU blazes was preceded by far different circumstances than this one.

“It is worth noting that the 2020 lightning event was preceded by an extremely hot and dry air mass that set the stage for aggressive wildfire behavior,” the NWS tweeted. “This event, the coast has been seeing daily overnight drizzle and we are forecasting below normal temperatures for most.

“The two events should not be compared in terms of expected impacts. Monsoonal surges such at the one forecast for this weekend are cyclical 2-3yr events, while the 2020 event was a unique set of circumstances.

“The August 2020 lightning outbreak that triggered numerous wildfires occurred due to the confluence of monsoonal & tropical influences (remnants of tropical storm Fausto). There are no tropical influences expected with this upcoming monsoonal surge as Felicia is well to the SW.”

Check back here for more on this developing story.

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