Southern California may face the most dangerous fire weather yet over holiday

Southern California is preparing itself for what might be the year’s most severe fire weather event.

Utility providers are considering shutting off electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes as the area experiences warm temperatures, howling winds, and low humidity, posing an increased danger of ignition during the holiday weekend.

Wind gusts of up to 70 mph are forecasted in isolated areas of the foothills and mountains, while humidity levels fall into the single digits, eventually dropping to as low as 2% by Thursday. Officials have raised the warning in the hope that homeowners – and their visitors – will be prepared to escape in the event of a fast-moving fire close.

“The public needs to be extra cautious with anything that could start a fire,” the The National Weather Service said in a forecast discussion that the area might see the season’s biggest Santa Ana wind event.

“Those living near fire prone undeveloped areas, like the national forests, should make or review the family plan including what to take and evacuation routes in the event of an evacuation order is issued or a nearby wildfire threatens,” the warning added. “This is especially important with unaware visitors during the holiday week.”

Southern California Edison, that serves more than 5 million homes and companies in the area, warned that it was contemplating shutting off electricity to more than 151,000 consumers in six counties due to the increased dangers. Additionally, San Diego Gas & Electric is planning power outages for over 43,000 customers. As of Wednesday afternoon, neither company has issued any power shutdown notices.

In the American west, the climate crisis has raised temperatures and desiccation, extending the fire season. While northern California received a shower of rain in October, significantly reducing the danger of wildfires, California still remains buried in drought. The US Drought Monitor classified well over 80% of California as being in “severe drought” this week, with large swathes of land in the state’s southern and central regions classified as being in “exceptional drought” — the highest category.

The region’s dry plants are already set to burn, but when combined with high winds and little air moisture, these very hazardous circumstances may rapidly transform ignitions into infernos.

“NorCal is, largely, out of the woods this year when it comes to large/fast-moving wildfire potential thanks to widespread heavy October rainfall,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a tweet. “But same is not true in SoCal, where very little rain has fallen in recent weeks and vegetation is still very dry.”

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