4B.4 The northern California lightning event of June 20-21, 2008

Monday, 1 June 2009: 4:45 PM
Grand Ballroom West (DoubleTree Hotel & EMC - Downtown, Omaha)
Mark Burger, NOAA/NWS, Olathe, KS

The widespread convection event produced what has been described by land management agencies as “one of the most severe wildland fire situations ever experienced in California's history.” Some 6,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes aided by unseasonably receptive fuel beds resulted in over 1,000 separate wildfires. These fires culminated in resource deployments costing hundreds of millions of dollars, months of suppression and containment efforts, chronic smoke impacting much of the state, and 12 firefighter deaths. At the height of fire activity in July, over 18,000 firefighters were concurrently supporting operations in northern California. Despite the magnitude of this event, meteorological forecasts significantly understated the potential for a lightning episode. Much of this can be attributed to forecaster overreliance on climatology and upper-level flow regime arguing against such an event. However, using real-time observational and modeled data archived during the event, a rigorous analysis is conducted which reveals a number of precursor events and cues significant to the potential forecasting of this convective outbreak. Sea surface and lower tropospheric temperature anomalies, embedded tropical moisture in the flow aloft, as well as boundary layer and upper level forcing are examined to reveal relevant parameters likely to enhance future forecasting of similar convective threats along the West Coast of the United States.
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