Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California Is On Fire

I think I have mentioned before that I am not from around here. I am a California transplant. People sometimes ask me since I once lived in /California what am I doing here in Texas?

My stock answer: That’s a question that I often ask myself.

Truth is, it’s not all that bad here in the Texas Gulf Coastal plain. The weather sucks about 3/4ths of the time, though. People tell me, but have you looked outside today? There’s gorgeous weather outside today.

My stock answer: It’s like this 300 days a year in California.

But not these days. The past couple of days Texas has had it over California weather wise.

It’s this way every year at this time. They’re called the Santa Ana winds, and the weather pattern is called a Santa Ana condition.

No one really knows where the name came from. Santa Ana is a bedroom community in Southern California but there is nothing special about winds there. The website I found on the subject, here, suggests it comes from Santa Ana Canyon, one of the San Gabriel Mountain canyons that funnel these winds into LA. And there may be some truth to that, but there is also a school of thought that the actual name is Santana.

What happens is that a high pressure area forms in the California eastern desert and this produces a pressure gradient that sends winds through narrow canyons in the central and coastal mountain ranges. Friction heats up the wind as it finds itself trying to get through smaller and smaller pathways, and wind velocity builds for the same reason. The result is hot dry winds that turn everything in sight into tinder.

And all that needs to happen is a spark. Quite often the spark is from a cigarette. Sometimes fires are intentionally set by crazies. What typically happens is several fires break out naturally, then several more fires are set intentinally. The result is a fiery maelstrom. Separate fires have been known to join to make one big fire.

For most California residents, the fires that are fanned by the Santa Ana winds are mere inconveniences. But if you have a house in the foothills, the chances are high that you will be directly affected. And this, by the way, is one paradox that always sets some people on edge: if you lose your home in a fire, say a home in the hills above Malibu, and the Governor declares a disaster area (as he did), you qualify for low interest loans to rebuild your house. A paradox because if you have a house in the hills of Malibu you are already as rich as Croesus.

But the fire disaster is only the beginning. Say your house was saved by fire fighters from destruction. Now you have the long winter to look forward to. When fires strip the brush off the hillsides (brush commonly called chaparral), and it starts to rain, the soil has no plants to serve as anchors, and you get horrendous mudslides that bowl houses over and cover their sleeping inhabitants. Roadways disappear.

All this sounds pretty bad. Why would anyone want to live in California?

Why? Because in California, it’s like it was today here in the Texas Gulf Coastal plain 300 days a year.

In case you haven’t been following this, here are a couple of You Tube videos.

This is one of a TV reporter covering the destruction of his own home. This is a first.

And last but not least, here is a satellite photo from NASA.

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