Battery Storage is a Key Piece of California’s Clean Energy Transition. But There’s a Problem With Fires.

If California is going to meet its ambitious goals to transition from electricity using fossil fuels, the state will need energy storage to shoulder a significant amount of the load.

While the number of installations are on the rise, a persistent problem keeps coming up — fires igniting at battery storage facilities.

FEMA Ranking Shows San Diego County Tops List of Most at Risk for Wildfires in Southern California

It’s that time of year when the dry heat, along with winds, increases the risk of wildfires.

The National Weather Service said the wildfire threat is elevated in our inland communities into next week.

As Storm Hits California, What About Drought, Wildfires?

Many Californians will wake up this morning to a relatively rare phenomenon: Rain. Today, the freezing-cold temperatures and high-powered winds that have gripped much of the state this week are set to give way to a good old-fashioned winter storm: Both Northern and Southern California are expecting rain, strong winds and heavy mountain snow, with an avalanche warning in effect through Friday for backcountry areas in the Sierra Nevada.

California Drought: New Research Ties Specific Extreme Weather Events to Climate Change

Minor improvements can be found in the state’s drought situation, according to the latest drought monitor. Data from the early November storm that dumped up to 5 feet of snow in the Sierra and brought soaking rain to the valley is included on this week’s monitor. While the storm system didn’t vastly improve conditions, it is a decent start to what is a critical year for California’s water resources.

Why California Wildfires Burned Far Less This Year

California is enjoying fewer extreme wildfires than it has in years, which experts attribute to a combination of summer rain, calm weather and increased forest management.

California weather-extremes-wildlfires-flooding

More Evidence that California Weather is Trending Toward Extremes

A team led by Kristen Guirguis, a climate researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, found evidence that the risk of hazardous weather is increasing in the Southwest.

The researchers investigated the daily relationships among four major modes of weather affecting California. How they interact governs the formation of weather events such as atmospheric rivers capable of bringing torrential rains and Santa Ana winds that can spread devastating wildfires.

“This study suggests that weather patterns are changing in a way that enhances hot, dry Santa Ana winds, while reducing precipitation frequency in the Southwest,” said Guirguis. “These changes in atmospheric circulation are raising the risk of wildfires during California winters.”

The study, “Winter wet—dry weather patterns driving atmospheric rivers and Santa Ana winds provide evidence for increasing wildfire hazard in California,” was published in the journal Climate Dynamics July 17, 2022.

Flooding in Elk Grove, California.Dillard Road is flooded near the Hwy 99 off ramp, located south of Elk Grove, California. Photo credit: Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources.

The basis of the research was an examination of the dominant atmospheric circulation patterns over the North Pacific Ocean, known as Baja-Pacific, Alaskan-Pacific, Canadian-Pacific, and Offshore-California modes. What distinguishes them from each other are the relative positions of ridges and troughs in the atmosphere.

Weather patterns and a warmer atmosphere

The research team identified 16 recurring weather patterns that are created daily as these modes interact with each other. One product of the work was a summary of California weather patterns from 1949 to 2017. The patterns associated with the formation of dry gusty Santa Ana winds that often stoke Southern California fires are becoming more frequent. Patterns associated with what might be considered “normal” rainfall are decreasing in the Southwest thus promoting drought, but patterns associated with extreme precipitation and strong atmospheric river episodes have remained steady over the study period. The researchers noted that while the patterns associated with heavy precipitation and strong atmospheric rivers have not changed in frequency, a warmer atmosphere is capable of holding more water so these storms are becoming more damaging.

Challenges for wildfire and water resource management

The results suggest an increasing probability of compounding environmental hazards during California winters, said the research team. Though winter atmospheric rivers are the antithesis of hot, dry Santa Ana wind conditions, sequences of wildfires followed by strong atmospheric rivers often compound the damage from fires when they trigger flash floods and destructive debris flows from burn scars.

Photo of the Thomas Fire taken from a Santa Barbara beach. Photo credit: Carsten Schertzer / iStock.

“This spells challenges for wildfire and water resource management and provides observational support to our previous results projecting that California will increasingly have to depend on potentially hazardous atmospheric rivers and floodwater for water resource generation in a warming climate,” said study co-author Alexander Gershunov, a Scripps Oceanography climate scientist.

Study authors say this work is helping to inform an experimental subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) forecast product being developed at Scripps Oceanography’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) that predicts extreme weather in California including atmospheric river landfalls, Santa Ana winds, drought, and heat waves.

The U.S. Department of the Interior via the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, the California Department of Water Resources, and the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) California—Nevada Climate Applications Program and the International Research Applications Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the study. Additional funding was provided by the University of California Office of the President MRPI grant.

High water levels on the Tuolumne River close River Road in the city of Modesto, California.High water levels on the Tuolumne River close River Road in the city of Modesto, California, part of Stanislaus County. Photo credit: Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources.

The San Diego County Water Authority has a partnership with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during and after seasonal storms.

(Editors Note: Study co-authors include Benjamin Hatchett of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada; Tamara Shulgina, Michael DeFlorio, Rosana Aguilera, achel Clemesha, Tom Corringham, Luca Delle Monache, and Marty Ralph of CW3E at Scripps Oceanography; Aneesh Subramanian and David Reynolds of the University of Colorado Boulder; Janin Guzman-Morales of the University of California Santa Barbara; and Alex Tardy and Ivory Small of the National Weather Service.)

California’s 2022 Wildfire Season is Off to a Relatively Tame Start. Will It Last?

Blazes have burned thousands of acres, cued mandatory evacuations and threatened some of the state’s oldest and most impressive trees, but far fewer acres have burned in California wildfires through the first few weeks of summer than at the same point last year.

The tides may turn in the coming weeks as conditions stay hot and grow drier, but the numbers to date suggest the state may have averted a particularly nasty start to this wildfire season.

Wildfires Erupt in Arizona and California in Foreboding Sign of Intense Summer

Scorching temperatures and desperately dry conditions set the stage for the rapid spread of several explosive wildfires that erupted over the weekend, forcing evacuations in California and Arizona.

The blazes are among dozens that have broken out across the US south-west early in the summer, including a ferocious fire in New Mexico that became the worst in the state’s history. Officials say it is a foreboding sign of what is shaping up to be another intense year of fire.

Conditions are Ripe For High Wildfire Season Come September

The U.S. national drought early-warning information system, called NIDIS, gave a rundown Thursday on when much of the Southwest will experience conditions that heighten the potential for wildfire.

Drought is one of the main drivers because less water means drier soils, drier plants and drier air, all conditions that fuel wildfire.

High Winds, Heat Boost Fire Threat as California Faces Long Season

Fire danger is on the rise in California, as warm, dry and windy weather heralds a potentially long and difficult season. For several consecutive years, increasingly extreme, climate-change fueled wildfires have devastated parts of the state.

The area of greatest concern late this week is in Northern California, where strong northerly winds will combine with dry vegetation in the Sacramento Valley, after temperatures soared to 100 degrees on Wednesday afternoon.