San Diego power company installs nearly 100 weather stations

We have ranted about San Diego Gas and Electric a number of times for starting numerous wildfires, including the disastrous Witch, Rice, and Guejito fires in eastern San Diego County in 2007. But we have to give them credit for doing two things recently that benefit the wildland fire community.

The first was the purchase of a $30 million Erickson Air-Crane S64F Helitanker that should be delivered later this month. The company has agreed to share it with San Diego County on wildfires for a reasonable cost, but it will be used primarily for constructing and maintaining power lines.

The second thing they have done is to install a boatload of weather stations in the backcountry areas of San Diego County, including Ramona, Alpine, El Cajon, Valley Center and Fallbrook. So far they have have installed 94, yes 94, weather stations on power poles in wind-prone areas. The solar-powered stations contain sensors and data loggers made by RM Young and Campbell Scientific, respectively, and monitor wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and relative humidity.

SDG&E intends to use the data from the stations to determine where it should stage repair crews and whether or not it should shut off power to residents during periods of strong winds.

The meteorologists in the local National Weather Service office are pretty excited about this massive new source of weather conditions. SDG&E has plans to make the data available to the public through a “dashboard”.

January-June, warmest ever

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has concluded that the first six months of this year were the warmest ever recorded for the combined global land and ocean surface temperatures.

warmest first 6 months global 2010

The map below zooms in on North America and shows that areas in the western half of the United States were either one degree C above or below average, while the northeast, Canada, and Alaska were about three to four degrees C above normal for the first six months of this year.

warmest first 6 months north america 2010
NOAA

Climate change brings lightning-caused fires to the North Slope

Two years ago residents of Barrow, on Alaska’s North Slope, saw something they had never seen on the North Slope–lightning. Climate change is bringing lightning, and lightning-caused fires to northern Alaska in quantities never before seen in recorded history. Here is an excerpt from an article at usnews.com.

When it comes to weather, it’s hard to impress the Iñupiat people living at the northernmost tip of our nation. Frozen landscapes, cutting winds, and white-outs are normal in Barrow, Alaska, a small town on the Arctic Ocean about 1,300 miles from the North Pole. But two summers ago, even the oldest residents were startled by something new: flashes of light and powerful booms coming from the sky.

“These people had never seen a lightning storm at Barrow before,” says Gaius Shaver, an Arctic ecologist from the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Ecosystems Center in Woods Hole, Mass. “They didn’t know what to think.”

With temperatures warming an average of 3 to 5 degrees over the past half-century, the climate on the North Slope of Alaska is in transition. Warmer air means more energy is available for thunderstorms where, once, it was just too cold. And more lightning is bringing another dramatic change to the tundra: Wildfires.

“The decade of the 2000s was, by far, the biggest for fires on the North Slope in half a century,” Shaver says. Thirteen wildfires torched nearly 260,000 acres over the decade—more than all the fires recorded and area burned on the North Slope since 1950. And as global warming continues, tundra wildfires are fully expected to increase, both in frequency and acreage burned.

The implications of fire in the Arctic—what Shaver calls “a new disturbance regime”—are profound. “Fire may be the trigger that shifts the North Slope landscape into a new state,” Shaver says—one vastly different from the frozen, treeless tundra of today. And it’s one that may feedback positively to global climate change.

New red flag warning criteria in California

The National Weather Service in southern California is changing the criteria that triggers a red flag warning for fire danger. In addition to wind speed and relative humidity, the new system will take into account local geography and terrain. Weather forecast offices across the state will have different criteria. Check out the full story in the LA Times, but here is a video of an LA Times reporter explaining the new system.

Interesting weather for the north-central US

AccuWeather

Some interesting weather is forecast for the north-central United States today and tomorrow, including lightning, hail, and winds exceeding 50 mph.

AccuWeather
Lightning for the 24-hour period ending at noon, 4-13-2010. Strikestar.

Wildland fire air quality tools, and mapping shortcuts

I ran across an interesting web site the other day called Wildland Fire Air Quality Tools.  It has some very useful devices for predicting and analyzing smoke, wind patterns, and air quality.

There is no obvious branding on the site (the base web address is http://firesmoke.us), but the Contact Us page lists two US Forest Service employees, Pete Lahm and Sim Larkin. The About This Site page says:

The meteorological and air quality tools provided here are intended to support wildland fire decision making and integration of air quality assessments. This site integrates these tools with the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) in order to enable easy workflow with WFDSS. This integration is still in development and ongoing.

One of the more interesting tools on the site is one that will display a “wind rose” based on the location of your choice.  If you enter a lat/long it will access data from the nearest RAWS to draw wind roses for a one month period, one for daytime and another for night. As you may know, a wind rose shows the historic wind direction and speed. Here is an example for West Yellowstone, Montana. It shows average wind speed and direction for the month of July during the day, based on data from 2001 to 2009. About 32% of the time the wind is from the southwest and about 22% of the time it’s from the south-southwest. About 14% of the time the wind speed is 8-13 MPH from the southwest.

Wind Rose, West Yellowstone, MT

Mapping shortcuts

You will need a lat/long to use the tools above, but you’re in luck because I discovered a quick way to determine the lat/long anywhere using a new “Labs” feature in Google Maps. But first I’ll tell you about another new feature in Google Maps that will help you navigate more quickly to a specific location.

On the Google Maps page, click on “New” at the top of the page. It will then list some new optional features in “Google Maps Labs”. If you Enable “Drag ‘n’ Zoom“, you can drag your mouse cursor to draw a box, then it will zoom to that box. To use this feature, click on the new magnifying glass icon that will appear on the left side of the map page under the “+” and “-” scale bar. Each time you want to draw a box to zoom, you’ll need to click that icon again.

Then scroll down in the Labs options and Enable “LatLng Marker” (not LatLng Tooltip). Click Save Changes. This option will post a “mini marker” showing the lat/long when you right-click on the map and choose “drop LatLng Marker”.

You’re welcome.