Santa Ana Winds: We know them all too well here in Southern California considering they are our most important weather feature in this region. We have experienced more offshore wind events than rain events so far this winter season and January and February are typically the wettest months of the year.
what you need to know
- More wind events are coming, so prepare for Santa Ana’s strongest wind events and stay safe during this time
- The risk of fire has been low but not non-existent lately after December’s rains
- Fuel moisture is getting drier with every wind event in Santa Ana
- Good chances that February will be another above-average dry month
During these wind events, the National Weather Service issues advisories, observations and warnings throughout the Southland.
Let’s review what these weather warnings mean.
Wind warnings are issued for sustained winds of 31-39 mph lasting more than one hour and/or gusts of 46-57 mph for any duration. This means strong winds will occur, but will be less severe and not strong enough to warrant a high wind warning. Outdoor items should be secured and everyone should exercise caution while driving.
strong wind clock:
Strong wind watches are issued when sustained strong winds are possible within 24 to 48 hours. Usually this is issued in advance to allow time for preparation. Secure loose outdoor items and adjust plans as needed so you don’t get caught outside by surprise.
Strong Wind Warning:
High Wind Warnings become High Wind Warnings issued for sustained winds of 40 mph or greater lasting longer than one hour and/or gusts of 58 mph or greater for any duration. This means these winds are persistent and very likely to pose a threat to life or property. Stay indoors if possible, and when driving, keep both hands on the wheel and slow down.
Fire Weather Watch:
Fire weather warnings are issued when rapid starting and spreading wildfires are possible within 12 to 24 hours, along with sustained winds of at least 20 miles per hour for at least two hours, minimum relative humidity of 30 percent or less, and 10 hours of fuel humidity 10 percent or less for at least two days.
Red Flag Warning:
Fire Weather Wardens morph into red flag alerts that are issued when rapid initiation and spread of wildfires continues. Other criteria include sustained wind speeds of at least 20 mph for at least two hours, minimum relative humidity of 30 percent or less, and 10-hour fuel humidity of 10 percent or less for at least two days.
Note that no fire weather watches and red flag warnings have been issued recently due to significant rainfall in December, but conditions continue to dry with each Santa Ana wind event. Fuel humidity is becoming drier across the Southern California landscape, and we could soon see a greater threat of wildfires if this dry and windy pattern continues.
Before a strong wind event
It is important to prepare ahead of these high wind events so you are not caught off guard, especially if wildfire breaks out and forces you from your home.
Here are some recommended tips to do before the wind picks up:
- Bring what you can inside or store items in a shed or garage.
- When outdoors, tie up anything that could be blown away, fly through a window, or hit a car. This includes garbage cans, patio furniture, pool toys and other outdoor decorations in your front yard or back yard.
- Cover or stack patio furniture, place it in a corner or near a wall, and weigh it down with something to protect it from the elements. If you have an umbrella, make sure there is enough weight to support the base and close and secure the roof as well.
- Before wind events, stay away from trees and power lines and do not park your car under them.
- Make sure the trees on your property are trimmed and away from your home and power lines.
- Secure loose shutters and gutters and make sure they are free of debris.
- If you live in a mobile home in a high wind region such as the high desert or at the foot of the Cajon Pass and a high wind warning/alert is issued, plan to take shelter in a sturdy building if necessary.
- Have your emergency kit ready with enough food and water for everyone in the household. This is the case when the power goes out for a long time. Charge batteries for flashlights, cell phones and other necessary items.
During wind events in Santa Ana, it is important that everyone is aware of the situation, when and where the most activity will be. The biggest concern is usually the spread of wildfires, but that’s not the only thing to watch for at these events.
Even if you live in a typically wind-sheltered location like the LA coast and basin, you might do some traveling and will likely encounter windy conditions on your ride.
In these offshore wind events, some areas are attacked more than others. The strongest winds usually come through the passes (Banning Pass, Cajon Pass, Tejon Pass known as Grapevine, and Soledad Pass. We also see strong winds over the mountains and valleys of LA and Ventura County, through parts of the Inland Empire and inland Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains.
It is in the lighted places that we usually see the strongest winds.
Be careful when driving, especially when traveling in a high-profile vehicle such as a bus, articulated lorry, trailer, or RV. These types of vehicles are more prone to tipping over due to strong cross winds. If you drive near any of these types of vehicles, be sure to slow down and keep your distance.
More often than not, we see downed trees and power lines during the strongest wind events, which can cause widespread power outages in parts of Southern California. That’s why it’s also very important to have your emergency kit with non-perishable groceries ready in case you’re going to be without power for a long time.
As we have already seen, these strong wind events can do a lot of damage!
Scenes from Pomona. Last night’s #SantaAnaWinds toppled huge trees cutting through fences, roads and this house. Neighbors say no one was hurt. December rainfall was the third-highest on record for Southern California, which may have contributed to the uprooted trees. pic.twitter.com/zCEYwdaVNA
— Jessica Langlois (@langloislane) January 23, 2022
When red flag warnings are issued and there is an extreme risk of fire, it is common for utility companies to cut power to wind-prone locations to prevent wildfires from starting.
Usually, these Santa Ana winds help mix up much of the pollution and bad air by blowing everything across the coastal waters. Alternatively, they can also cause a lot of sand and dust to be thrown up, which can pose health risks for sensitive individuals. This can also lead to intermittent poor visibility on the roads, which is usually the case in the desert.
In general, on these extremely windy days, it’s best to stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed. It’s no fun being outdoors on days like these anyway, but if you have to walk a pet, be sure to stay clear of trees and overhead hazards. Watch out for loose objects and flying debris that could come your way.
Sometimes these gusty winds can even cause flight delays due to turbulence that endangers aviation. They also tend to make for choppy waters and surfing conditions where boating and swimming are not recommended.
Keep all of these tips in mind for our next Santa Ana Wind events.