Abstract

Strong, dry downslope winds over Northern and central California have played a critical role in regional wildfires. These events, sometimes called Diablo or North winds, are more frequent over the Bay Area and nearby coastal terrain than along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, where the highest frequency occurs over the midslopes of the barrier. For the Bay Area, there is a frequency minimum during midsummer, a maximum in October, and a declining trend from November to June. The Sierra Nevada locations have their minimum frequency from February to August, and a maximum from October to January. There is little trend in event frequency during the past two decades over either region. For the Bay Area sites, there is a maximum frequency during the early morning hours and a large decline midday, while the Sierra Nevada locations have a maximum frequency approximately three hours earlier. Before the onset of these downslope wind events, there is substantial amplification of upper-level ridging over the eastern Pacific, with sea level pressure increasing first over the Pacific Northwest and then over the Intermountain West. The coincident development of a coastal sea level pressure trough leads to a large pressure gradient over the Sierra Nevada and Northern California. Diablo–North wind events are associated with below-normal temperatures east of the Sierra Nevada, with rapid warming of the air as it subsides into coastal California. The large horizontal variability in the frequency and magnitude of these events suggests the importance of exposure, elevation, and mountain-wave-related downslope acceleration.

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