The November 2018 Camp Fire quickly became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. In this case study, we investigate the contribution of meteorological conditions and, in particular, a downslope windstorm that occurred during the 2018 Camp Fire. Dry seasonal conditions prior to ignition led to 100-h fuel moisture contents in the region to reach record low levels. Meteorological observations were primarily made from a number of remote automatic weather stations and a mobile scanning Doppler lidar deployed to the fire on 8 November 2018. Additionally, gridded operational forecast models and high-resolution meteorological simulations were synthesized in the analysis to provide context for the meteorological observations and structure of the downslope windstorm. Results show that this event was associated with mid-level anti-cyclonic Rossby wave breaking likely caused by cold air advection aloft. An inverted surface trough over central California created a pressure gradient which likely enhanced the downslope winds. Sustained surface winds between 3-6 m s1 were observed with gusts of over 25 m s-1 while winds above the surface were associated with an intermittent low-level jet. The meteorological conditions of the event were well forecasted, and the severity of the fire was not surprising given the fire danger potential for that day. However, use of surface networks alone do not provide adequate observations for understanding downslope windstorm events and their impact on fire spread. Fire management operations may benefit from the use of operational wind profilers to better understand the evolution of downslope windstorms and other fire weather phenomena that are poorly understood and observed.
National Science Foundation
Camp fire, Doppler lidar, Downslope windstorm, Fire weather, Observations, WRF
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Meteorology and Climate Science
Matthew J. Brewer and Craig B. Clements. "The 2018 Camp Fire: Meteorological analysis using in situ observations and numerical simulations" Atmosphere (2020). https://doi.org/10.3390/ATMOS11010047