What is a 'Santa Ana' wind and why is it devastating California?

If you’re from California or know anyone in California, you’ve likely heard this term before.

It’s a localized term describing east to west downsloping winds in California which produce hot dry air and lead to rapid fire growth.

Right now, California is burning out of control with more than 76 wildfires. Many of those fires stretch from LA up to San Francisco and surpass the California/Oregon border.

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Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 10 people have died. It seems that these fires are getting larger and becoming more dangerous each year. In fact,

The Denver Post had a story about why this wildfire season is among the worst. They say it’s an accumulation of man-made climate change, a large amount of precipitation last winter, and two dozen species of tree-eating beetles killing nearly 20% of trees since the year 2000.

The Santa Ana winds hit California every winter. This is a weather feature that is created by many factors.

First, the desert southwest tends to get much colder than the LA basin during the winter months. This can help create a large high-pressure ridge over the region.

As high-pressure spins (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere), it brings very cold and dry desert air up and over the mountains, down to California. As the wind rushes downslope from the mountains, this air compresses and warms rapidly. These winds can blow from 30mph-50mph+.

This is a firefighter’s worst enemy.

The name shares its name to the Santa Ana Freeway (which is I-5 in this region) and nearby Santa Ana Mountains. Unfortunately, as population continues to expand, these fires will continue to be a problem.