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La Nina Watch means dry winter and longer fire season possible for Southern California

Posted at 5:29 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 20:29:07-04

SANA DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - NOAA has issued a La Nina Watch, which means a dry winter and longer fire season are possible this year for Southern California.

This stems from colder water along the equator in the Pacific which has a domino effect on other parts of the world, including an increased risk of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean due to weaker winds and also higher chances for a dry winter over Southern California because of a lack of moisture. A lack of winter rain means the fire season could be longer than usual.

“So that means we enter the fall critically dry and then when you add a La Nina on top of that, it adds concern because we could likely go longer into the winter without seeing significant or beneficial rain,” said meteorologist Alex Tardy from the National Weather Service’s San Diego office.

He said it’s not quite black and white though. According to the NOAA, there's about a 50% to 55% chance of a La Nina occurring this year, which will be monitored as the winter season approaches. Also, in the past 10-15 years, La Nina years and El Nino years have proven to be not as extreme as previously thought. He said while the watch has been issues and a dry winter is possible, it’s still being monitored.

“It’s not time to panic but it is time to think and bring it back on your radar that fire weather is a major concern in Southern California,” he said.

A long dry season is not what Cal Fire wants to hear. Captain Issac Sanchez of Cal Fire San Diego said they go into every fire year with the same preparedness no matter what the forecast, but these conditions will be something they watch.

“The conditions are there now. The state is starting to experience these larger vegetation fires and it’s only a matter of time before they start impacting the communities that we live in,” said Captain Sanchez.

As this dry season is being monitored, more firefighters are being added to Cal Fire for a different reason. Governor Newsom announced the addition of 858 seasonal firefighters across the state. This means 52 will be added to the San Diego area. Half have started working and the other half are expected to start in August. This addition stems from the loss of inmates fighting fires due to coronavirus concerns, which is another battle to be fought this year.

“We talk about things like La Nina, the weather that’s influencing the fire, we talk about things like COVID that are influencing our behaviors on this fire, it’s always a concern,” said Captain Sanchez.

He said Cal Fire has already started taking steps to stop the spread of the virus for firefighters currently battling flames up north, but the goal this year is to aggressively stop every fire from growing, which would prevent large groups of firefighters from coming together.

WATCH: Cal Fire screens crews battling fire

“We have to put those fires out while they’re small before they become a large unmanageable incident and require the need of hundreds, if not thousands of firefighters on a particular incident,” he said.

Related: During peak wildfire season, COVID-19 prison outbreaks decimate inmate fire crews