Could Santa Ana winds ever impact Utah?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The short answer? No. Utah has sent more than 180 firefighters to California to aid in fighting deadly flames, and these crews will likely be there until after Thanksgiving. 

“Some of these folks are getting their first taste of firefighting in California. Their fuels are different. Materials, structures are different,” Jason Curry of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said.

Different factors play into the intensity of these deadly California wildfires including the fact California sees more precipitation than Utah, so they have a thicker brush. Flames also quickly hopped from home to home in Paradise, California. Building materials in California have proven to be another contributing factor to the spread of flames. Many homes are older and made of wood. In Utah, we have more brick and different building materials. 

“Most of what they are seeing as far as challenges go is the wind. In Utah, our winds don’t go 70 mph for days on end. That’s what they’re seeing with Santa Ana Winds,” said Curry.

What are the Santa Ana winds? You’ve likely heard about them, but you probably didn’t realize that they are a weather pattern set up that can’t impact Utah. It comes down to weather and wind. The winds start with high pressure. An area of high pressure is sinking air and winds rotate clockwise around it, which in this case, sent a northeasterly wind into the state of California. The wind speeds up as it moves over the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and as it comes down the other side of the slope rapidly dries out and heats up. A consistent hot, gusty wind hitting a particular area for a prolonged period of time easily spreads flames, but you don’t have that type of intensity inside the Great Basin.

“We see the high pressure setting up inside the Great Basin and the winds spill over to the outside of those mountain ranges. So we don’t see those strong Santa Ana winds in Utah or really anywhere else inside the Great Basin,” said Shelby Law,  Predictive Services Meteorologist for the Great Basin Coordination.

In Utah, we do see northwest wind events, but they don’t last for days. Keep in mind, just because the set up for Santa Ana winds doesn’t directly impact Utah, doesn’t mean we haven’t just survived a devastating fire season. In Utah, we had a fire start every day from May 14th to October 2nd. Fire starts paired with the worst drought in several portions of the state and no summer precipitation made this a very rough season. 

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