Baja hurricane brings lightning, fires to area
This summer, the Truckee-Tahoe area has experienced near record high temperatures, and the common clear skies – until now.
According to the National Weather Service, the latest weather pattern is the just the beginning of the area’s storm season.
Last week, the tail of Hurricane Isis swept across the region, bringing severe lightning and winds. Thursday night’s light show sent fire crews gathering resources for the next day’s outbreak of at least 36 fires along the east side of the Sierra from Truckee to Markleeville.
To the north, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials organized resources for eight specific fires that were all contained to less than an acre.
“We are lucky that there is so much moisture,” said CDF Battalion Chief Bryce Keller. “If the vegetation was dry, like it usually is this time of year, we would have been in some serious trouble.”
According to fire officials, lightning strikes hit hardest in the Glenshire and Juniper Hills area. Trees and houses were hit by “lightning bolts the size of tree trunks,” but damage was minimal. No house fires were reported.
There were four fires in Juniper Hills, one fire near Acid Flat on the north side of Interstate 80 east of Floriston, one fire near Martis Peak Road above Hirschdale and one fire near Gooseneck Pond in the Lahontan development.
CDF also coordinated the efforts for three fires that burned on the Toiyabe National Forest which runs from Interstate 80 below Floriston and south below Lake Tahoe through the Carson Range.
Helicopters dropped water on two fires just east of Juniper Hills near the Gray Creek drainage and above it. The Rose Fire burned a small area two miles west of Mt. Rose.
In the area to help spot fires and direct ground crews, CDF Air Attack remained on duty for the majority of Friday. Engines from Colfax, Dobbins and Columbia Hill assisted CDF Truckee, the Truckee Fire Protection District and Northstar resources.
Handcrews from CDF and the U.S. Forest Service worked all day Friday to extinguish the fires.
The fires were suppressed by late Friday when the last crews were picked up by CDF helicopter.
On the Toiyabe, crews worked into Saturday mainly in the Verdi and Markleeville areas, which were hardest hit by lightning. Fires in these areas ranged from single trees to a five-acre grass fire.
Saturday’s storm was accompanied by heavy rains.
Randall Osterhuber from the Sierra Snow Lab atop Donner Summit, said he recorded measurable amounts of rain since last Thursday. The majority of rain fell on Saturday with totals close to 1.5 inches on the summit.
“The majority of the rain cells were in Truckee, so I would assume the total was around 2 inches there,” he said.
The Truckee-Tahoe Airport reported precipitation totals close to 1 inch on Sunday and one-half inch Tuesday night.
NWS rainfall totals for Truckee totaled 1.68 inches for the period Sept. 3-9.
“The front brought heavy rains across a large area,” said NWS Meteorologist Robert Baruffaldi. “Even the valleys had a lot of rain, which is unusual for this time of year.”
Baruffaldi said Isis’ effects were felt through early Monday, when another low pressure system moved into California from the Pacific.
“Even this pattern is early for this time of year,” he said. “We usually don’t see this until later in the fall.”
The extended outlook calls for variable clouds with temperatures on Thursday reflecting the trough of cold air over the region. There will be a warming trend through the weekend and temperatures will return to seasonal norms.
As far as the phenomenon La Nina is concerned, Baruffaldi said it’s too early to tell what this winter’s weather will look like.
La Nina’s effects on the sea surface temperatures are already being witnessed. As El Nino warmed the surface, La Nina is cooling the surface.
“The generalization is that La Nina results in below normal precipitation,” he said. “It (La Nina) is still setting itself up. The sea surface temps are dropping and it is just a matter of how long it will take to affect the weather patterns.”
He said severe weather can occur in either La Nina or El Nino, hence the historic flooding during past La Nina winters.
“Flooding, heavy snows and drought will happen whether La Nina or El Nino is or isn’t happening,” he said. “It’s not exact.”
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Motorists on Interstate 80 should expect delays today as the California Department of Transportation continues work on the $2.5 million Farad rockfall project.