Santa Ana winds with gusts between 50 and 70 mph will whip through Southern California starting Friday afternoon and peak overnight across most of the region, but a wet winter has dampened the risk for potential wildfires.
The high winds are due in Los Angeles and Ventura counties starting around 3 p.m. on Friday, according to the National Weather Service. A high wind warning will remain in effect until 3 p.m. on Saturday in both counties and up until 6 p.m. in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The strong winds bring the potential for fires, downed trees, powerlines and other debris. In the higher canyons and the western portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, isolated wind gusts could reach up to 80 mph, officials said. Coastal Orange County will see gusts reach 45 mph and the San Diego mountains and valleys will see gusts of up to 55 mph, said the weather service.
“This one is going to be a little stronger than our regular Santa Ana winds,” said meteorologist Mike Wofford with the National Weather Service, Los Angeles office. “It’s going to be a little more widespread and some areas will get more wind that they normally do.”
A robust rainy season has left behind a healthy amount of moisture in plants and vegetation across the region, Wofford said. While that won’t end the drought, it does dampen the risk for fire danger. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk.
The Santa Ana winds will peak overnight and into Saturday morning, meteorologist Elizabeth Schenk from the National Weather Service, San Diego office said. The intense, upper-level lower pressure system moving through the southwestern United States is typical for this time of year, but will dry up a lot of the moisture in the region.
“The Santa Ana winds can happen any time of the year,” Schenk said. “There’s usually that extreme fire risk in the summer months when we haven’t seen any rain for an extended period of time. The conditions could be fairly dry after these upcoming Santa Anas pass through.”
In Central and parts of Northern California, strong winds are expected kick up Friday and continue through Saturday. High wind warnings will be in effect for Placer, Butte and El Dorado counties, starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.
“The strongest winds forecast for the region will be right along with Sierra Crest and to the west of it,” said meteorologist Scott Rowe with the National Weather Service, Sacramento office. “Normally this time of year, we’ll see the winds to the east, but it has reversed this time.”
The wind event originating in the north and making its way down Central California, commonly referred to by meteorologists as the “inside slider” takes an inland track as it travels south, Rowe said.
Skiers, hikers and snowshoe explorers in the higher elevation should take extra precaution, Rowe said, because the extreme winds could impact fire-damaged trees.
“We’re advising folks to exercise extreme caution, especially if they’re going into forested areas,” Rowe said.