Dry lightning over the Golden Gate
Over the past several days, Sandra and I have been hearing from friends and extended family asking if we’re OK amid the wildfires currently burning all over California, and especially up here in Sonoma County Wine Country.
YES. So far we’re OK. Thank you all very much for your concern. Here’s an update on our situation:
We’ve spent much of the last few days preparing to leave our house in case the fire — the Walbridge1 Fire, part of the LNU Lightning Complex of fires that has broken out all over Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Solano and Yolo counties in Northern California — gets too close. For the past few days the Walbridge Fire, while growing, has been substantially “stuck” in place about five or six miles west of our house. Fortunately, the winds have been light, and yesterday they started blowing away from us. The wind direction has been erratic, however, and no one seems to know where it will turn next.
The big threat now is another “dry lightning”2 storm predicted for tonight, which seems likely to start new fires. It was a spectacular display of dry lightning early last Sunday morning that started all these fires. In fact, one of the lightning bolts struck very close to our house. The flash and simultaneous thunderclap awakened us at 5 a.m., cutting our electrical power almost instantaneously. (The simultaneity of the flash, clap and power shutdown is what told us how close it was to our home. The electrical outage lasted 24 hours.)
Beyond lightning, tonight’s predicted storm is also “expected to generate erratic wind gusts between 40-50 mph and … higher.” So all bets are off.
We’ve filled our gas tanks, packed our bags and put in storage a few irreplaceable items we’d like to save if the house burns down. We’ve also made a hotel reservation in Novato, about 35 miles to the south. If we have to leave suddenly, we can stay with our daughter Melissa and her family in Santa Rosa, but to remain there for more than a night would probably stretch her three-person/two-dog/two-cat household beyond capacity, which is why we’ve made the hotel reservation. (We’re confident that insurance will cover our expenses if we have to evacuate. It did in last October’s fire — for more on that, see below.) As the days have gone by with the fire stalled, we’ve kept pushing the reservation forward (i.e., postponing it) one day at a time. We’re grateful for the hotel’s having been very accommodating in that regard.
This fire is entirely different from the ones that roared through here in October 2017 and October 2019, which were both driven by strong (60+ mph), hot, dry, seasonal east-to-west winds that forced many people to flee at a moment’s notice. The current nearly stationary, lightning-ignited Walbridge Fire is to the west of us and has nothing in common with the seasonal conditions that, apparently in combination with sparking from the electrical grid, triggered the 2017 and 2019 fires.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that this year’s October-November Diablo wind-generated3 fire season is yet to begin.
For now though, we’re OK, and we’re crossing our fingers we won’t have to leave and won’t lose the house.
Please wish us luck.
- Many people looking for information on the Walbridge Fire have been searching for “#Wallbridge.” There are plenty of posts out there on Facebook and Twitter, so don’t hesitate to try both spellings.
- Actually, lightning of any kind is rare in California. Last week’s dry lightning was said to be the unexpected result of a big heat wave. The dry lightning forecast for tonight is associated with “what was once [Eastern Pacific] Hurricane Genevieve stream[ing] northeastward, where it will encounter intense August heat over central and northern California.”
- These winds are similar to Southern California’s “Santa Ana” winds and the Santa Barbara area’s Sundowner winds, both of which are, in turn, related to the more general Foehn phenomenon.