|Santa Ana winds|
Q: Especially in regard to California fires, you often hear about the "Santa Ana winds." What are they?
A: These are warm, dry winds that blow into areas of California, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. "These winds most often occur in southern California near an area called the Santa Ana Canyon, hence their name. Santa Ana winds are different in that they blow the opposite of most winds–from the east to the west and into the southern California desert communities. The area has some unusual topography and natural features that are ideal for the formation of these winds, which range in speed from 25 to 100 miles per hour. The clockwise circulation around high-pressure areas forces air quickly down the slopes of the mountains in the region and the dry, desert air becomes even warmer as it moves through the valleys."
Q: How do the Santa Ana winds affect fires in the area?
A: The strong winds almost always worsen any fire situation they get near, adds McRoberts. "The brisk winds tend to fan the flames and can make a minor forest fire into a major fire event. Because Santa Ana winds are very dry, the low humidity in them dries out vegetation quickly, further worsening fire conditions. Many fires in California receive major help from Santa Ana winds, causing thousands of acres to be scorched. Santa Ana winds are most common between October and February, with December having the most wind-aided events."
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