by Margaret Benner
If you live in California or watch the news, it’s hard to miss the fact that the state has a perennial fire problem. Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of land burn, often destroying homes and other structures. Even before the start of the official fire season in September this year, hundreds of lightning-caused fires had already burned thousands of acres.
And that was just in northern and central California. Southern California has a whole additional set of issues that revolve around the Santa Ana winds. These strong, offshore winds blow from the northeast into the coastal areas of Southern California every fall, bringing with them hot weather and, some say, bad luck. They also bring with them increased fire risk.
In October 2007, wildfires burned about 500,000 acres of land and destroyed 1,500 homes across Southern California. The flames were fanned by unusually hot weather, extreme drought, and strong Santa Ana winds. As firefighters brace for the official fire season to begin this year, only time will tell what role the Santa Anas will play.
In “The Ill Wind That Blows: Southern California’s Santa Ana Phenomenon,” Tim Vasquez explores the history and meteorology of the Santa Ana winds in light of last year’s disastrous fire season and examines how this meteorological phenomenon can cause so much destruction.
Meanwhile, switching topics from disaster to recovery, The Salvation Army’s Jeff Jellets takes readers inside the Army’s disaster relief services in “Enduring Katrina: A Firsthand Look at The Salvation Army’s Disaster Relief Efforts.” Although the organization might be better known for its Christmastime bell-ringers and its thrift stores than its relief efforts, the Army has been helping communities recover from some of the largest weather-related disasters in the United States for more than a century. Katrina was no exception, and Jellets takes readers inside what turned out to be the Army’s largest disaster relief effort to date.
Last, but not least, I am thrilled to bring you the winners of the 2008 Weatherwise Photo Contest. As always, we had some spectacular entries this year, and the judges had a difficult time choosing the winners. The results of their decisions are published on page 20, and I hope you find them as beautiful as I do. Weatherwise also displayed many of the winners in an exhibit at the National Press Club building in Washington, D.C., from August 11-22.