Late start to Southern California’s rainy season extends fire danger
Amid a devastating fire season, the arrival of the wet season in much of California is running behind normal — and experts say rain may fail to reach some areas until at least the middle of December.
The wet season, which is officially declared once measurable precipitation falls on a given area, typically runs from October until April or May.
After a later end to the 2018-19 wet season, the drying period and the fire season had a later start in California, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
October was devoid of precipitation in cities like San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, setting the stage for destructive fires that charred hundreds of thousands of acres across the state.
Tropical influences, which normally bring some moisture and wet weather into the southern half of California in September or October, were absent this year. The lack of rainfall, combined with more frequent wind events during autumn, led to several dangerous fires during the month of October.
The lack of precipitation also extended through the first week of November.
So far in 2019, a total of 6,402 fires have scorched 250,349 acres across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Normally, by early November, there has been at least one storm to bring wet weather to northern and central portions of California. Without any needed rainfall this year, California’s fire season has been extended.
In fact, AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that the extended dry weather will end up being one of the top five latest starts to the wet season for parts of California.
According to the National Weather Service office in the San Joaquin Valley, the latest date for measurable rainfall in both Fresno and Bakersfield, Calif., was Dec. 11, 1995.
The fifth latest start to the wet season for Bakersfield and Fresno is Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, Northern California will not have to wait as long for the rainy season to return.
“Much-needed rain is expected to arrive around the middle of the month for locations from the San Francisco Bay area on northward,” Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather’s lead long-range meteorologist, said.
There is an even better shot of rain in this region during the third week of the month, Pastelok added.
It is anticipated that these rounds of rain will effectively dampen a lot of the dry fuels in the region, helping to ease the extreme fire conditions of late.
However, the dire situation is likely to continue in the southern half of California.
While the weather pattern will allow a couple of storms to track rain through Northern California later in the month, the southern half of the state looks like it will miss out.
Without any wet weather, ample dry vegetation will remain present and could act as wildfire fuel in SoCal.
The pattern could result in a large fire potential to remain across much of Southern California through November and even into December for the most southerly locations, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Should it remain dry in Fresno through Wednesday, which is expected by AccuWeather forecasters, the start to the wet season would be at least the fourth-latest in recorded history.
Storms may dive just far enough south to douse the San Joaquin valley around the end of November.
For other locations in the Southland, the situation may be even worse.
“Rain might not reach the L.A. Basin until the third week of December,” Pastelok warned.
Until that time, those in the region should be aware of any wind events, as even weaker offshore winds could stir critical fire conditions.
Locally stronger winds can still whip in the canyons and through the passes of Southern California, rapidly growing a small spark into a dangerous blaze.