Santa Ana forecast prompts fire, frost warnings

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Fierce Santa Ana winds descending on Southern California over the Thanksgiving holiday are stoking fire — and freeze — concerns, dramatically divergent phenomena that can arrive with the seasonal gusts.

A red flag warning went into effect at 10 a.m. Wednesday for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties and will last through 6 p.m. Friday, as gusty northeast winds and bone-dry air bring the potential for critical fire weather in the region, according to the National Weather Service.

Gusts are expected to top out between 35 and 55 mph, with intense isolated gusts of 60 to 70 mph potentially blasting foothill and mountain areas — paired with minimum humidity of just 2% to 8%. Winds are expected to blow strongest from Wednesday night into Thursday morning, serving up a windy Thanksgiving morning.

Winds are expected to weaken by Friday, but the very low humidity and occasionally gusty winds will “continue these critical conditions” through the afternoon, according to the warning.

“Any new fire starts could spread rapidly!” the weather service warned in a tweet, noting in a different tweet that residents should have an emergency plan in the event of evacuations triggered by a fast-moving wildfire — even at night.

Southern California Edison said Tuesday that nearly 99,000 customers could be affected by a public safety power shutoff to reduce the danger of fire from utility lines knocked down by winds.

Inland areas of Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Los Angeles counties could see the largest outages, the utility said. Kern and Orange counties also could be affected.

Often associated with warm, dry gusts, Santa Anas can shuttle in cold air from the Great Basin to the Southland’s interior valleys and mountains, the weather service said. There’s a potential for temperatures to dip well below freezing in the Antelope Valley on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The current red flag warning does not cover the Antelope Valley.

Weather officials said residents should be prepared to protect sensitive plants and shelter outdoor animals amid frigid conditions. Temperatures between 33 and 36 degrees can damage plants left outside, while 32 degrees and under can kill them.

In the Sierra, mild, dry conditions are prompting some ski resorts to delay their winter season — a stark reversal after an early-season storm dumped snow on some peaks, leading some resorts at the time to open ahead of schedule.

Lake Tahoe’s Sugar Bowl resort this week announced it would not be opening on Friday for the Thanksgiving weekend as planned.

“We held onto hope as long as we could,” but a forecast of unideal conditions forced a delay, the resort wrote on its website Monday.

No updated opening date was provided for the resort, located on the north side of Lake Tahoe. “As soon as we know, we will let you know,” the resort said.

The Heavenly and Northstar resorts already announced they would not be open by the holiday weekend, and also did not provide fire opening dates, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain, to the south of Lake Tahoe, both kicked off their winter seasons early due to a massive storm, fed by an atmospheric river, in October. Palisades Tahoe has since closed due to dry weather.

A major factor driving warm, dry conditions in Southern California is the emergence of La Niña conditions for a second year in a row.

The phenomenon is associated with warmer, drier winters in the Southwest, and colder, wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Northern California, smack in the middle, is more of a toss-up.

Amid the La Niña encore, Southern California this winter is expected to see below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures, according to a 2021 Winter Outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which spans December through February.

South of the Bay Area — throughout Central and Southern California — “prospects for any drought improvement are slim,” said Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with NOAA, late last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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