Fire season is a concept we are familiar with in the West Coast, but it may be foreign to those moving here or living far away.
Not long ago I was on the phone with a cousin from the East Coast. That area had recently been hit by Tropical Storm Ida and over here we were being smothered by the smoke from the Northern California fires (Caldor, Dixie, Tamarack and some others). Aghast at enormity of it all, my cousin asked the poignant question, “has there always been a fire season, or is that a recent thing?”
Briefly, yes, California has always had a fire season.
One major reason people (myself included) love California is for its mostly dry Mediterranean, subtropical climate. However, that ideal dry hot summer climate is also a perfect tinderbox. Without summer rain, the grasses and annuals die off and many native perennials go dormant. Dry hot winds, frequent from around August through October, dry out the landscape even more. By this time, an open hillside is A-grade kindling – one little spark and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Even in wet seasons with no drought, the summer will always be hot and dry with a high risk of ignition. So while fire season is nothing new, it’s longer and much worse than it used to be.
Fire and California Homes
For California homeowners and buyers, the increasing fire danger is strongly felt. Most buyers tell me they do not want to be in high fire risk zones, but might not always know what to avoid. State and local governments have put more preventative regulations in place to keep homes safe from wildfire, both on builders and homeowners.
If you are relocating to Silicon Valley, you may be wondering what the risks of wildfire are like for this area. There are plenty of resources available online, and I always recommend clients to look at the hazard maps such as those listed in my article Tools You Can Use When Relocating to the San Jose Area. While the mountain and foothill communities may be at risk of wildfire, even the lowlands are experiencing another concern that comes with harsher fire seasons: smoke and air quality.
In my other blogs I have more articles dedicated to the topic, so I won’t go into detail here. I encourage you to view some of my articles about Fire at the Live In Los Gatos Blog or over at the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog under the Natural Hazards and Safety categories if you’re interested in learning more.
Some of the oldest trees living in California have the scars of past fires, sometimes multiple. Native plants have evolved and adapted to fire and can thrive in its shadow. And for as long as people have lived here, they have contended with seasonal fire danger.
Fire season 2021 has come to an end with the arrival of rain – a double bounty since we are in the middle of a severe drought. When the rains come, the problems aren’t over, though. In burned out areas, the next challenge will be mudslides and further damage to the fire zones. This is an old problem also, I remember hearing about the mudslides following the fires as a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s.
“Fire hardening” is an important concept for those of us who live in or near large open spaces with hills especially. I suspect it will grow into a cottage industry with new experts appearing to advise or possibly install features which will make our homes and landscaping more resistant to advancing flames.
People coming from out of the area to relocate to Silicon Valley might not know what to expect from the weather in the San Jose, Santa Clara County, or Silicon Valley Area. Does this part of California ever rain? How hot is the summer? What is the climate like?
In a nutshell, this is a “sub-tropical” area, or a place that enjoys a mild “Mediterranean climate” that is most heavily influenced by the close proximity of the shoreline and the Pacific Ocean. Temps are mild, we get little rainfall compared to many parts of the country.
More specifically, we usually get about 10-20 inches of rainfall a year (less on the east and more on the west) and enjoy as many as 300 sunny days a year. Winters seldom see many hard freezes (but they can happen).
A typical summer day has highs in the mid to upper eighties but very low humidity – so it feels much cooler. Heat waves and heat inversions can run the temps up to the low to mid 100s in the hottest parts of the valley. Luckily it doesn’t happen much, or stay for long! Once in awhile, a rare storm in summer will bring high humidity and thundershowers, but for the most part, summers are dry. The hottest month is typically August.
The coldest month, usually, is December. A January day will often have a high in the 60s or 50s, depending. A cold day here is when it does not get into the 50s (not too common). By February, though, the worst is usually over and it’s even possible to have freak warm days that hit 80 degrees!
Our weather varies from year to year. Some years we get drought conditions and may require water rationing . Other years we get lots of wet weather from the Pacific – temps are warmer but there’s much too much rain: those are the El Niño years. Most often, though, winters aren’t that bad – evenings can be nippy as temps drop into the 20s on the worst nights in December or January. It will make the news that people should cover their citrus trees so they aren’t damaged by the freezing temps. (more…)
Locals to the San Jose area (Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County) know, and newcomers often do not, that we have mico-climates here. Our weather is mild everywhere, of course – we enjoy a “sub tropical climate” where citrus grows and palm trees thrive – but it varies a lot nonetheless.
What kind of variation exists in Santa Clara County’s weather?
Consider that our terrain is shaped somewhat like a funnel with the San Francisco Bay on the wide end, and the two mountain ranges making up the sides of the funnel, narrowing at its base (near Morgan Hill).
Together with our funnel shaped valley, the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay are the major influencers on our climate. The Santa Cruz Mountains are warmer and wetter than the eastern foothills in winter. The Pacific Ocean brings in the rain, fog and winds pulling storms in from the ocean to the valley. Much of the weather stops at or near the coastal mountains, though, and the influence lessens as you go east such that the east foothills are very, very different from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The areas close to the bay get more breezes than those sheltered by smaller valleys or nooks.
In general, the further south you go (Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Almaden Valley), the warmer it gets. The closer to the bay, the cooler it will be. Areas in smaller valleys in the hills may get mini heat inversions, which trap heat, and will generally be hotter in summer than areas not so protected.