Say goodbye to the gloomy weather weve had the past few weeks — summer is setting up to be a scorcher.
Thats good news for beachgoers. Thats potentially bad news for firefighters.
The National Weather Service recently issued a summer forecast and summarized the drier-than-normal winter conditions already setting the stage for a dangerous fire season.
A 155-acre fire that started Monday evening, June 11, near the 241 Toll Road west off Santiago Canyon Road, following an Aliso brush fire last week that scorched 175 acres, could be a glimpse at what firefighters will have to deal with as we head into summer and fall.
And theres no relief in sight. For Orange County, with no major storms on the horizon, its looking to be the driest season ever recorded.
Samll brush fires break out along Laguna Canyon Road near Lake Forest Drive. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Villwock)
An LA County Fire Department helicopter attacks the South fire on Saturday, June 9, 2018, in the Newhall area. NWS meteorologist warns of fire dangers this summer. (Photo by Rick McClure/Special to the Los Angeles Daily News)
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Thousands of beach goers flock to Huntington Beach to escape the heat wave in late July 2017. Expect warm weather this summer, experts say. MARK RIGHTMIRE,/SCNG
A helicopter at work on Saturdays fire in the Santa Clarita and Newhall area. Photo courtesy Los Angeles County Fire Department
Firefighters work on the South fire on Saturday, June 9, 2018, in the Newhall area. As of early Monday, June 11, the fire was 75 percent contained and had burned 175 acres. (Photo by Rick McClure/Special to the Los Angeles Daily News)
Smoke from a controlled burn Wednesday, June 6, drifted into Riverside, prompting concerned calls. (Screen grab from Cal Fire video, Courtesy Cal Fire)
Water is warming up and summer should have plenty of sun shine, according to NWS. File/SCNG
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Most areas of Southern California had 30 percent to 40 percent of normal precipitation last winter.
San Diegos rain total of 3.32 inches was the second driest on record for that area. And for all of the south coast region — from Los Angeles to the Mexico border — it was the third driest winter on record, said Alex Tardy, NWS meteorologist based in San Diego.
Given Santa Anas current rain totals, the year is shaping up to be the driest ever recorded, dating back to the early 1900s. Only 2.66 inches of rain has been tallied in Santa Ana during the current season, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. That compares to 17 inches of rainfall recorded the previous season, which saw several storms.
The average annual rainfall for Santa Ana is about 13 inches.
“Its been remarkably dry,” Tardy said. “Its getting harder and harder to manage. Were having these years — to go from 17 last year to two inches this year — managing that is difficult. It doesnt make it easy to have enough water supply during those conditions. They are literally one end of the spectrum to another.”
In Los Angeles, the season is shaping up to be the third driest on record, dating back to the 1800s, with 4.72 inches of rainfall. The driest seasons were 2006-2007, with 3.73 inches, and 2001-2002, with 4.42 inches.
The dry winter has driven up the fire risk in the region, with fuel moisture levels at a near record for dryness.
“This makes for potentially dangerous fire conditions, where fires can actively burn if starts occur,” Tardy said. Two years ago was wet above normal, “but thats a distant memory,” he said.
Grass grew in abundance with all the rain two years ago, fueling fires in the fall of 2017. This year, with little rainfall, theres not as much grass or weed growth, but fire officials worry that what brush there is, is cause for concern.
“Thats why youre seeing these fires quickly start, they are growing aggressively,” Tardy said.
The recent Laguna Beach fire was an example of how, even with relatively light winds — gusts of 12 mph — a fire can get out of control because of the dry conditions.
“It will be really critical this fall, because we will start getting Santa Ana winds,” Tardy said. “We could look at a bad year where the fires are aggressive and numerous.”
Sunny skies ahead
May was gloomy and gray, with temperatures below normal. But that may have been just an anomaly, ending a stretch of five years with above average temperatures.
In June, low clouds are continuing to linger in the morning, but they are burning off quickly.
“If we were thinking May was a nice change, its not going to dominate this summer,” Tardy said. “June has really turned the corner. Were seeing above normal temperatures.”
A bit of a heat wave is expected this week, with temperatures in the 80s throughout the area and warmer inland. Another jump in temperatures is forecast for later this month.
Tardy said Southern California might see some monsoon weather this week, with a tropical cyclone brewing in the southern hemisphere, a high pressure system drawing moisture into the region.
“Some of it will clip us,” he said. “We dont expect rain but well see some cloud cover and increased humidity, maybe some thunderstorms to the east.
“It does signal kind of a change to more humid and tropical moisture.”
For those heading to the beach, Tardy said the ocean has warmed up lately, going from the upper 50s to, in some areas, 70 degrees, thanks to swells moving in from the south.
“Were seeing a lot of warm water to our south,” he said. “Its been around for months and were starting to feel some of that.”