Thanksgiving Day in Southern California saw power shut-offs for tens of thousands of people due to strong, seasonal winds threatening an increased risk of wildfires.
Around 64,000 customers lost power on Thursday in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. In the San Diego area, critical fire weather conditions also meant power was cut to 5,000 homes, interrupting traditional dinners in a year when many Americans were hoping for a relative return to normality after the separations and isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Weather Service in Los Angeles reported on Friday that winds had blown at more than 50mph, reaching up to 76mph at Arrowhead Spring in San Bernardino County. The windiest spot was at Browns Canyon in the Santa Susanna Mountains where winds blew at 89mph.
— NWS Los Angeles (@NWSLosAngeles) November 26, 2021
In Los Angeles, the winds blew over trees into homes, vehicles and power lines but no injuries were reported.
No major wildfires were reported during the winds’ peaks but red flag warnings will remain through Friday due to predicted strong gusts and very low relative humidity, forecasters said. There was the possibility of red flag warnings being extended through the weekend, NWS said.
Electricity was not immediately turned back on as utility crews made the rounds checking for damage to lines.
The Santa Ana winds, named after the Santa Ana Canyon 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles, can bring powerful and hot gusts which dry out vegetation in the fall, a time when wildfire risk is highest.
Saw substantial tree damage during today’s drive across Los Angeles #cawx area with my mom and sister, from strong Santa Ana wind event last night. Pictures from Lankershim Blvd to Colfax and surrounding areas from North Hollywood, Studio City, to Burbank. @NWSLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/9X6w1XJgwr
— Ariel Cohen (@BuckeyeTSTM) November 25, 2021
The Santa Ana winds draw energy from cold air in Nevada’s Great Basin, and as it flows down mountains, it wrings out moisture and gains heat. In northern California, the so-called “Diablo winds” can create similarly dangerous conditions.
There have been 8,367 wildfires in 2021 across California, burning more than 3 million acres, according to data compiled by Cal Fire and the US Forest Service.
Three people have died and more than 3,600 structures have been damaged or destroyed.
Extreme heat and drought conditions being driven by the climate crisis are fuelling larger and more intense wildfires. The amount of land destroyed by fires in California has increased fivefold since the 1970s, and wildfire season now stretches on for at least two additional months.
Last year the Bobcat Fire became one of the largest fires ever recorded in LA County, burning for more than three months and destroying 115,796 acres in the Angeles National Forest and surrounding area. The Santa Ana winds played a role in whipping up the fire’s intensity.