California fires could reach record levels in 2008

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:42 PM GMT on June 25, 2008

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An unusually early and dangerous fire season has hit California, where at least 33 fires burning over a total of 190,000 acres are active, according to the Interagency Fire Center. The fires were sparked over the weekend when an unusually far southward-moving storm system brought numerous thunderstorms to central and northern California. Over 8,000 lightning strikes hit the region. Most of these strikes were not accompanied by rain, since a very dry atmosphere at low levels caused much of the thunderstorm rain to evaporate before reaching the surface. The lightning strikes ignited an unusual number of fires, due to exceptionally dry vegetation in California. This year, the state experienced its driest spring season (March-April-May) since record keeping began in 1895, and much of the state is in moderate to severe drought.


Figure 1. Visible satellite image from NASA's Aqua spacecraft on Monday, June 23, 2008, showing smoke from hundreds of wildfires sparked by lightning in California. The red regions show where the satellite's sensor detected fires burning. The smoke has created air pollution levels in excess of the federal standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) over much of California's Central Valley. Image credit: NASA.

The forecast
With the dry season only beginning, it could be a record fire year in California. Even before last weekend's lightning storms, California had already seen an unusually large number of destructive wildfires, according to CalFire--90,000 acres had burned, compared to 42,000 acres during the same period last year. It is not unusual for large portions of the state to receive no rain at all in July and August, such as occurred last year (Figure 2). The jet stream typically moves far enough north in summer that the migrating low pressure systems that bring California most of its rain only hit the northernmost portions of the state. With high fuel levels due to a century of misguided fire suppression efforts, moderate to severe drought gripping the state, no rain in sight for months to come, and an above-normal chance of warmer than average temperatures forecast this summer for the state by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, expect a record fire season in California.


Figure 2. Observed precipitation over California during 2007. Much of the state received no rain at all during July and August, which is a common occurrence. A little bit of thunderstorm activity did make it into the easternmost portion of the state, thanks to moisture flowing north-westward from the Arizona Monsoon. However, the Sierra Mountains block this moisture from reaching the central and western portions of the state. Image credit: NOAA.

Tropics
It's quiet in the tropical Atlantic. There are no threat areas to discuss, and none of the models are forecasting tropical storm formation in the next seven days. Beyond a week from now, the GFS is hinting that the region off the coast of Africa could see some development, but it is still probably too early for this too occur, despite warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the region.

Jeff Masters

San Bruno Mountain Fire - Cresting the Ridge (ajkimoto)
Photo taken as the fire crested the ridge of San Bruno Mountain
San Bruno Mountain Fire - Cresting the Ridge
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64. zoomiami
12:05 AM GMT on June 26, 2008
I'll try again - this is a nice story written last year about those who survived Hurricane Aubrey.

Link
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4136
63. GeoffreyWPB
7:58 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
Within the last year..I believe on the History Channel..they had a docu. on the '38 Long Island storm. Very interesting. The stories of the people involved..including the late actress Katherine Hepburn...were riveting to say the least. And the fact that only a few of local forecasters predicted that the storm was coming, with the technology of the time, was especially interesting.
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62. TerraNova
12:01 AM GMT on June 26, 2008
55. jabjb2 6:41 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
weather456 is there any other models that show something forming in the GOM? Especially around mobile thats where I live.


The WAVCIS model shows something on the latest run, but that model together with the NAM are two of the less reliable models for tropical purposes.
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61. Tazmanian
4:59 PM PDT on June 25, 2008
oh my god WOW-UN OH


this take a look at this

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60. zoomiami
11:56 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Geoffrey - I for one enjoyed seeing this post - and its definitely weather related. Just been reading over the reports from that storm and Long Island Hurricane in 1938.
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59. SLU
11:48 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
THE GFS IS A HIGHLY RESPECTABLE MODEL BUT LONG RANGE PREDICTIONS SHOULD BE TAKEN WITH GREAT SUSPICION. IT IS A GOOD INDICATOR OF THE UPCOMING WEATHER PATTERN NOT NECESSARILY MEANING THAT ALL LOWS/TROPICAL CYCLONES IT DEVELOPS WILL HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. HOWEVER, IT CAN INDICATE THAT THE POTENTIAL FOR A STORM TO FORM IS INCREASING.

NOW WITH THE LOWS COMING OFF AFRICA ... ITS TRUE THAT THE WAVE TRAIN THIS YEAR HAS BEEN STRONGER THAN AVERAGE, BUT CLIMATOLOGY ALMOST ALWAYS WINS THE BATTLE AND IT SHOULD ONCE AGAIN UNLESS THIS YEAR IS 2005 PART 2.

OUT OF RESPECT FOR THE GFS, I DO EXPECT TO SEE A COUPLE OF THREATENING TROPICAL WAVES IN THE EASTERN ATLANTIC NEXT WEEK. ONE OR TWO MAY TRY TO DEVELOP FURTHER BUT IT IS A BIT UNLIKELY THAT THEY WILL UNLESS THEY REMAIN BELOW 10N ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC WHERE THE SST's WILL BE HIGHEST AND THE SHEAR THE LOWEST.
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58. IKE
6:45 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
55. jabjb2 6:41 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
weather456 is there any other models that show something forming in the GOM? Especially around mobile thats where I live.


No...so far.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
57. IKE
6:44 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
The name Audrey was soon retired and will never be used again to name a hurricane.[4] Because of this, it was the first and only use of the name Audrey for the Atlantic Basin.[5] Hurricane Audrey left $1 billion (2005 USD, $147 million in 1957 USD[6]) in damage and at least 419 fatalities, most in eastern Texas and western Louisiana. Audrey is ranked as the sixth deadliest hurricane to hit the United States mainland since accurate record-keeping began in 1900. No future hurricane caused as many fatalities in the United States until Katrina in 2005.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
56. GeoffreyWPB
7:40 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
I just reposted Dr. Master's entry from the 26th. I enjoy reading history that Dr. Master's post and what the thoughts of bloggers were at this point in time last season. Sorry if I offended anyone.
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55. jabjb2
11:32 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
weather456 is there any other models that show something forming in the GOM? Especially around mobile thats where I live.
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54. zoomiami
11:39 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Ok Geoffrey - what's the rest of the story? What happened to those in Cameron?
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53. GeoffreyWPB
7:28 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
Blast from the past..what is interesting, is what some of the same bloggers on here now were saying on this date...being that the next storm we would be tracking was Chantal on July 30...Just interesting, that's all...

Posted by: JeffMasters, 7:39 AM EDT on June 26, 2007
Fifty years ago this evening--on the night of June 26, 1957--residents of Cameron, Louisiana slept uneasily. Cameron, population 3,000, sat on the coast just above sea level, about 30 miles east of Texas. Hurricane Audrey roared across the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico towards Cameron that night, lashing the coast with high winds and heavy rain. Many residents had heeded calls to evacuate from Audrey's 100 mph winds and predicted 5-9 foot storm surge that afternoon. But the old timers, familiar with how the surrounding dunes had protected Cameron in the past, stayed put. It was, after all, June, and severe hurricanes in June were almost unheard of. Besides, the storm was not expected to hit until the following afternoon, so there was still time to evacuate in the morning if things looked bad. The remarkable mass exodus of thousands of crawfish from the marshes surrounding Cameron that night apparently did not concern the old timers, who figured they had more sense than crawdads. But the crawdads could apparently sense what the old timers could not--sea surface temperatures were a full 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit above average in the Gulf of Mexico, with a large upper level anticyclone bringing near-zero wind shear over Audrey. This perfect recipe for rapid intensification meant that Audrey was not going to be a mere Category 2 hurricane at landfall. An additional ingredient unfavorable for intensification--the approach of a trough of low pressure with increased wind shear--would not occur in time to weaken the storm. However, the approaching trough did bring an increase in steering current winds at mid- and high levels of the atmosphere, which doubled the forward speed of Audrey overnight.

Not everyone got the warning a hurricane was coming, since Cameron was isolated and didn't get good radio reception. Television sets were still too new to be commonplace. Those Cameron residents who were able to get the warnings saw this before they went to bed June 26:

NEW ORLEANS WEATHER BUREAU
HURRICANE WARNING AND ADVISORY NUMBER 7 AUDREY
10 PM CST JUNE 26 1957

CHANGE TO HURRICANE WARNINGS 10 PM CST O UPPER TEXAS COAST AS FAR SOUTH AS HIGH ISLAND. LOWER STORM WARNINGS EAST OF LOUISIANA TO PENSACOLA>

AT 10 PM CST...0400Z...HURRICANE AUDREY WAS CENTERED ABOUT 235 MILES SOUTH OF LAKE CHARLES LOUISIANA NEAR LATITUDE 27.0 LONGITUDE 93.5 MOVING NORTHWARD ABOUT 10 MPH. THIS MOVEMENT IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE AND THE AREA FROM HIGH ISLAND TO MORGAN CITY IS EXPECTED TO BEAR THE BRUNT OF THIS HURRICANE THURSDAY.

HIGHEST WINDS ARE ESTIMATED 100 MPH NEAR CENTER AND GALES EXTEND OUT 150 TO 200 MILES TO EAST AND NORTH OF CENTER AND 50 MILES TO THE SOUTHWEST.

TIDES ARE EXPECTED TO REACH 5 TO 9 FEET FROM HIGH ISLAND TEXAS TO MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA AND 3 TO 6 FEET ELSEWHERE FROM FREEPORT TEXAS TO BILOXI MISSISSIPPI BY LATE THURSDAY. ALL PERSONS IN LOW EXPOSED PLACES SHOULD MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND. WINDS ARE INCREASING ALONG THE UPPER TEXAS AND LOUISIANA COASTS AND WILL REACH GALE FORCE TONIGHT AND EARLY THURSDAY.
HURRICANE WARNINGS ARE DISPLAYED ALONG THE ENTIRE LOUISIANA COAST AND ON THE UPPER TEXAS COAST AS FAR SOUTH AS HIGH ISLAND AND STORM WARNINGS AT GALVESTON. THE THREAT OF HURRICANE FORCE WINDS OVER SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA HAS LESSENED CONSIDERABLY.

NEXT ADVISORY AT 4 AM CST BULLETIN AT 1 AM CST.

CONNER WEATHER BUREAU NEW ORLEANS

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52. CJ5
11:03 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
40. IKE 10:47 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Central/south Florida is under an explosion on the IR loop....


LOL..I got home from work, popped a top and this was the first image I loaded and had to do a double take.

http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~gadomski/SATATL_FLOAT1/recentvis.html
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51. sporteguy03
11:03 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
I guess Tom does not know what he is talking about ,lol...
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50. TerraNova
11:01 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Not sure if it matters or not but the WAVCIS model shows a spinup south of Mobile, Alabama tomorrow with wind speeds of around 30 mph as it comes ashore tomorrow.

WAVCIS 60-hour Wind Forecast
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49. IKE
6:00 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
I see that TerraNova...it doesn't do much with it after that..maybe as it gets closer in time the GFS will pick up better on it.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
48. IKE
5:56 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
46. stoormfury 5:56 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
I have not seen any seedings on the sat images to indicate that something might pop up in the gomex according to the runs of the NAM


It's being discounted by met-offices in the SE USA. The latest GFS does show a system moving in, but further west...48-60 hr. time frame(small system). See what tomorrow brings...odds are the NAM will be wrong.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
47. TerraNova
10:49 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
32. IKE 10:40 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
The 18Z GFS doesn't do much of anything out in the eastern Atlantic........through a week...


IKE, the GFS shows a cyclone in the East Atlantic exactly a week from now (Wednesday July 2)...

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46. stoormfury
10:53 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
I have not seen any seedings on the sat images to indicate that something might pop up in the gomex according to the runs of the NAM
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45. GeoffreyWPB
6:54 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
Lake O getting some much need aqua. Good Deal...
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44. Weather456
6:54 PM AST on June 25, 2008
ohok
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43. BajaALemt
10:53 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
...and pressures in the central FL area....30.23-26ish. 30.12 Key West

*shrugs*
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42. stoormfury
10:50 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
456
i concur, it was a case ot misinterpretation






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40. IKE
5:46 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
Central/south Florida is under an explosion on the IR loop....

Link
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39. Weather456
6:45 PM AST on June 25, 2008
29. stoormfury 6:32 PM AST on June 25, 2008
456
this is 264hrs out with gfs showing the forecasted storm to bottom right and the forerunner top left


I kno the GFS has been showing something on the long-range but what I'm sayin is that the satellite image of the wave I posted is not likely the tropical wave that the GFS is developing on the medium-long range.
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38. sporteguy03
10:46 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
JP,
You heard Tom mention that? because of the sea breeze there is a spin over Central FL that is why the rain is redeveloping.
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37. sporteguy03
10:44 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
JP,
There is a tropical wave moving through the NAM might be picking up on that, maybe.
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36. IKE
5:45 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
34. sporteguy03 5:44 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
Ike an area of low pressure has form in Northern Lake County in FL according to Tom Terry at WFTV.


Where is that?
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35. IKE
5:44 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
The GFS is throwing darts out in the eastern Atlantic....as Grand Funk sings....look Closer to Home......
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34. sporteguy03
10:42 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Ike an area of low pressure has form in Northern Lake County in FL according to Tom Terry at WFTV.
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32. IKE
5:39 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
The 18Z GFS doesn't do much of anything out in the eastern Atlantic........through a week...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
31. Skyepony (Mod)
10:32 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
I really can't remember the NAM ever being right on a tropical matter when it was an outlier..Silly NAM.
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30. IKE
5:31 PM CDT on June 25, 2008

22. Weather456 5:14 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
For the past few runs the NAM has been consistently showing development in the Gulf of Mexico on the 27th.

The latest run (18Z)


The GFS has sort of sided w/the NAM...check out the 48 through 60 hour loop...has it coming in further west..in LA....

Link
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
29. stoormfury
10:28 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
456
this is 264hrs out with gfs showing the forecasted storm to bottom right and the forerunner top left

Link
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2552
28. Skyepony (Mod)
10:23 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Thanks for the update. Looks like a bad scene is unfolding out there.

Yeah the Atlantic is quiet but how about the EPAC..94E for the blob watchers. Putting a good effort into pulling it together



click pic to see loop.
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26. BajaALemt
10:23 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
Thanks for the post, Doc M. I grew up at the base of San Bruno Mtn...eerie to see it like that. Wow
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25. Weather456
6:16 PM AST on June 25, 2008
24. stoormfury 6:16 PM AST on June 25, 2008
456
this wave is the forerunner to the one the GFS is forecasting


how so?

That wave is to exit in 84 hrs. Look at the GFS in 84 hrs.
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24. stoormfury
10:14 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
456
this wave is the forerunner to the one the GFS is forecasting
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23. Stormchaser2007
10:14 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
GFS out to 102hrs.....nothing out there yet.

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22. Weather456
6:12 PM AST on June 25, 2008
For the past few runs the NAM has been consistently showing development in the Gulf of Mexico on the 27th.

The latest run (18Z)



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21. stoormfury
10:09 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
YES DRAK BERTHA IN 1996 AN EATL
STORM WHICH MOVED THROUGH THE LEEWARD IS AND PR
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20. Weather456
6:05 PM AST on June 25, 2008
According to PV forecasts, this feature will exit in 84 hrs and have strong vorticity in the lower middle atmosphere. This is not likely the feature being forecasted by the GFS.



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19. tropicfreak
6:10 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
Your making me more hungrier thani'm already am. LOL
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18. atmoaggie
10:09 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
dry on the edges and sopping wet in the middle

Sounds like a very good burger.
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17. tropicfreak
6:09 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
very busy gulf
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16. atmoaggie
9:54 PM GMT on June 25, 2008
NaN!

Thanks Dr. Masters
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15. Patrap
5:07 PM CDT on June 25, 2008
GOM IR Loop Link
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14. tropicfreak
6:05 PM EDT on June 25, 2008
not the gfs
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.