Tubbs Firestorm wipes out over 2,000 Santa Rosa, CA homes/businesses in 36 hours!

Written by on October 11, 2017 in Summer 2017, United States of America with 0 Comments

California has a long dark history of destructive and devastating wildfires but the Tubbs firestorm of October 2017 will likely go down as one of the state’s worst. The scenes coming out of Santa Rosa in the Wine Country NE of San Francisco resembled those of the state’s worst fire disaster, the Oakland Hills Fire of October 1991.

This week’s scene from Santa Rosa, CA

Oakland Hills in 1991

Why Another Firestorm in 2017?

A record wet 2016-17 El Nino winter in the wake of a multi-year drought followed by a typically dry summer created the perfect recipe for another brewing disaster. Thick vegatation growth over hard, dry ground was perfect and the fuel? HOT, DRY Diablo winds created by strong high over the Great Basin makes for a fire hell.

October has a fierce reputation for destructive wildfires in California and prior to this event, 5 out of the top 6 worst fire disasters in California occurred during October.

15 of the top 20 worst fires have occurred during the fall season.

Jan Null of the NWS Bay Area says Coastal California’s Mediterranean climate means that the warmest conditions coincide with the driest time of year which is during late summer, early fall and as the US landmass cools, higher pressure builds over the Great Basin which often triggers Diablo and Santa Ana wind events at this time of year.

Just 9% of rain in Los Angeles and San Francisco occurs during the six month dry season.


High Winds Return to Fan the Flames

Summer’s wildfires in California tend to burn more slowly, starting in more remote areas, often due to lightning.

In the fall, Calfornia’s infamous offshore winds, known locally as Santa Ana (southern California) or Diablo (northern California) winds, typically kick into gear, according to a 2017 climatology study.

The typical surface and upper-air setup for a Santa Ana - Diablo wind event in California.
 A typical Santa Ana (or Diablo) wind set up in California.

“In September and October, we begin seeing high pressure developing over the Great Basin and this creates dry warm offshore winds,” said Null.

“Since the Great basin is nominally 4000 feet in elevation, the air is compressed as it descends to sea level, warming and drying it. When this flow is forced over mountains and through canyons it accelerates.”

If the jet stream is also located just to the east of the state over the Great Basin, a downward push of strong winds can occur, intensifying the offshore wind event.

These intense offshore winds can occur, at times, from fall through spring.

What makes them particularly dangerous in October is that they occur when, as mentioned earlier, soil moisture is at its driest after the dry season.

These Santa Ana or Diablo winds can quickly whip either an existing wildfire or just-developed small brush fire into an inferno, blowing embers downstream, starting many more spot fires, often in more heavily-populated areas.

“October is sort of the perfect storm month for California firestorms,” said Null.

All the ingredients came together this week across California’s wine growing region and particularly the city of Santa Rosa as fire was sparked and ‘Diablo winds’ fanned the rapid growth and furious speed of what became a firestorm, obliterating everything in it’s path. Entire neighborhood were wiped off the map.

Over 2,000 homes and businesses were burnt to the ground within just 36 hours.

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