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Yang Cao and Robert G. Fovell

Abstract

The “Santa Ana” winds of Southern California represent a high-impact weather event because their dry, fast winds can significantly elevate the wildfire threat. This high-resolution numerical study of six events of moderate or greater strength employs physics parameterization and stochastic perturbation ensembles to determine the optimal model configuration for predicting winds in San Diego County, with verification performed against observations from the San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) mesonet. Results demonstrate model physics can have a material effect on the strength, location, and timing of the winds, with the land surface model playing an outsized role via its specification of surface roughness lengths. Even when bias in the network-averaged sustained wind forecasts is minimized, systematic biases remain in that many stations are consistently over- or underforecasted. The argument is made that this is an “unavoidable” error that represents localized anemometer exposure issues revealed through the station gust factor. A very simple gust parameterization is proposed for the mesonet based on the discovery that the network-averaged gust factor is independent of weather conditions and results in unbiased forecasts of gusts at individual stations and the mesonet as a whole. Combined with atmospheric humidity and fuel moisture information, gust forecasts can help in the assessment of wildfire risks.

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Tom Rolinski, Scott B. Capps, Robert G. Fovell, Yang Cao, Brian J. D’Agostino, and Steve Vanderburg

Abstract

Santa Ana winds, common to Southern California from the fall through early spring, are a type of downslope windstorm originating from a direction generally ranging from 360°/0° to 100° and are usually accompanied by very low humidity. Since fuel conditions tend to be driest from late September through the middle of November, Santa Ana winds occurring during this time have the greatest potential to produce large, devastating fires upon ignition. Such catastrophic fires occurred in 1993, 2003, 2007, and 2008. Because of the destructive nature of such fires, there has been a growing desire to categorize Santa Ana wind events in much the same way that tropical cyclones have been categorized. The Santa Ana wildfire threat index (SAWTI) is a tool for categorizing Santa Ana wind events with respect to anticipated fire potential. The latest version of the index has been a result of a three-and-a-half-year collaboration effort between the USDA Forest Service, the San Diego Gas and Electric utility (SDG&E), and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The SAWTI uses several meteorological and fuel moisture variables at 3-km resolution as input to the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model to generate the index out to 6 days. In addition to the index, a 30-yr climatology of weather, fuels, and the SAWTI has been developed to help put current and future events into perspective. This paper outlines the methodology for developing the SAWTI, including a discussion on the various datasets employed and its operational implementation.

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