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Santa Ana Winds – How They Are Formed

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Today Southern California experienced winds that gusted over 100 mph from a Santa Ana event. Trees toppled and thousand of local residents are without power. LAX airport was closed due to the winds, when winds disrupted electrical power to the airport, stranding hundreds of travelers. This was the strongest wind gusts in recorded history for a weather event known as the Santa Ana winds or Santa Anas. But how do Santa Anas develop? It piqued my interest and this what I have found.
The phenomenon known as the Santa Anas are named for the Santa Ana Canyon. Winds develop in the high deserts of the Great Basin near Nevada, usually between October and March. As the temperatures in the desert cool, air in higher atmospheres over the desert begins to become heavier. This heavier air begins to sink, creating turbulence and vertical movement as it makes its way through the passes and canyons in Southern California. These winds can create hurricane force gales as has been witnessed today. The humidity of the air begins to drop as it descends from the high desert to the coastal region, in some cases lower than 10 percent humidity. Warm dry wind shears from the Santa Anas quickly dry vegetation creating kindling for wildfires. These fires are in turn fanned by the Santa Ana winds.
Turbulence from the winds are a hazard to aviation.
Today the winds are responsible for blocked roads and highways, closed airports and loss of electricity. Is it a fluke or will we have to adjust to a new paradigm? Will 100 mph Santa Anas be the new normal?