Posted at 4:01 PM on July 9, 2008
by Paul Huttner
Smoke visible over northern California on GOES 1km visible satellite image
These are tough times in California. Fire season seems to go year round in the past decade. Drought persists, and conditions for "explosive fire growth" are stretching northward into Oregon now.
Can you blame it on La Nina? Yes, maybe. It may also be the result of longer term climate changes.
We call them teleconnections. The same atmospheric circulation patterns can persist over large areas and long periods of time. They are often driven by ocean temperatures. In this case, it's possible La Nina and cool ocean water in the tropical Pacific caused the jet stream to ridge northward over California then buckle downward over the Great Lakes all spring and into early summer.
The result? A cool wet spring in Minnesota, and hot dry months in California. When it's unusually cool and wet in one place, teleconnections say it'll be warm and dry somewhere upstream.
The good news is La Nina is breaking down in the Pacific as we head toward an ENSO neutral phase this winter.
The bad news? Fire season usually runs through October in California. The hot dry Santa Ana winds have not even begun to blow yet.
This could be a record year for acreage to go up in flames in the Golden State.
Stay tuned, and hope for rain.