The downside to Indian summer

Autumn along the California coast can be spectacular. With the cessation of northerly winds and coastal upwelling, ocean and air temperatures rise. September and October typically offer the sunniest days of the year. Summer tourists who shiver in their jackets in July might be surprised to know that in September the natives run around in shorts and flip-flops. The ocean itself tends to be calmer now, and combined with the end of the seasonal phytoplankton bloom presents some of the best conditions for SCUBA diving.

Without the onshore air flow that results from coastal upwelling, it can get quite warm here; it’s not for nothing that the marine layer is called Nature’s air-conditioning. Yesterday and today the afternoon air temperatures have been over 95°F right next to the ocean. That’s too dang hot for my tastes. I miss the fog already. For those who dislike fog and complain about being cold all summer, though, these weeks of Indian summer must be heaven.

Unfortunately, the heat of Indian summer coincides with the driest part of California’s dry season. Without a blast of cool, damp fog every week or so the landscape desiccates and fire becomes a daily threat. This year the fire season has been intense, with the Soberanes fire near Big Sur (started by an illegal campfire on 22 July 2016) having become the costliest fire to fight in U.S. history as well as other large fires scattered throughout the state. Cal Fire anticipates full containment of this fire in the next several days.

Closer to my neck of the woods, Cal Fire has another tough battle on their hands. Yesterday afternoon at about 15:40 I noticed a big plume of smoke rising straight up from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the northeast.

Smoke plume from the Loma fire at 15:41h. 26 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 15:41.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Because there was almost no wind at ground level the smoke rose straight up quite a way before dispersing laterally. It looked like a mushroom cloud of death.

The Loma Fire, as it is now called, is burning in rural Santa Clara County along the Loma Prieta Ridge. Fortunately this are is not heavily populated. I kept an eye on the smoke yesterday and took a series of photos from roughly the same spot on my deck.

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 15:52. 26 September 2016

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 15:52.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Smoke plume from Loma Fire at 16:06. 26 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 16:06.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 16:20. 26 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

Smoke plume from the Loma Fire at 16:20.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

To escape the heat in the late afternoon and early evening yesterday we borrowed a friend’s boat and went for a short cruise at dinnertime. The smoke in the sky did make for a very nice sunset.

Early evening sky to the west from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor. 26 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

Early evening sky to the west from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

The Crow's Nest restaurant at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, with the Loma Fire burning in the background. 26 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

The Crow’s Nest restaurant at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, with the Loma Fire burning in the background.
26 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

When we got home after dark last night we could see flames along the entire ridge. Wildfires always seem more menacing at night. When I got up this morning I could see that smoke from the fire had been blowing out over the ocean. This is fortunate for the people living in Santa Clara County.

A smoky sunrise, courtesy of the Loma Fire. 27 September 2016 © Allison J. Gong

A smoky sunrise, courtesy of the Loma Fire.
27 September 2016
© Allison J. Gong

As of 12:30 this afternoon, the latest update from Cal Fire reports that 1500 acres have burned and the fire is 5% contained. The weather is supposed to be cooler tomorrow, with a chance for some fog, which should help the firefighters. Indian summer may be lovely, but it comes with risks. Fire is scary stuff in the Golden State.

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