LOS ANGELES -- Fast-blowing Santa Ana winds are expected across many parts of Southern California, bringing with them a heightened risk of wildfire.
The National Weather Service says high pressure is building over the Great Basin and will increase offshore flow of air across Ventura and Los Angeles counties. The winds are expected to last from Friday through Sunday.
Forecasters predict strong northeast winds over the mountains, though a heavy marine layer may delay the winds' onset.
Gusts could peak around 70 mph in mountainous areas, with gusts around 50 mph across coastal and valley areas.
Fog and low clouds can be found up and down the coast Friday morning, but it shouldn't last long with strong Santa Ana winds expected to build later on. This is shaping up to be a moderate to major offshore event, and everyone needs to take notice.
Sunshine and very warm temperatures will be the nice side of the weather pattern, but strong, northeast winds, low humidity levels and an elevated fire danger is the downside. Under sunny skies, San Diego County should see upper 60s along the coast Friday afternoon and mid 70s inland. It should be three to five degrees warmer Saturday, then as much as 10 degrees warmer on Sunday and Monday. That means low to mid-80s are possible, not only in the warmer valleys but even at the beach.
That's the good news. The bad news is that we should start seeing the offshore winds on Friday afternoon or in the early evening. Saturday should be the windiest day, with the potential for gusts hitting 60 mph or higher in the mountains and below the passes. Winds should not be as strong on Sunday and should be even less of a factor by Monday.
While Southern California was blessed with a lot of rain the past two months, January has been moisture-starved, and, as a result, things have began to dry out, providing thousands of acres of potential fuel in the case of a wildfire. Humidity levels will drop into the 20 percent to 30 percent range on Friday afternoon, then drop to 15 percent or lower Saturday and Sunday. That means that wildfires can start with just a spark or a discarded cigarette. The dry conditions and strong winds could then spread it rapidly to the west and southwest.
The gusty winds will also make driving conditions hazardous through the mountain passes into Monday. High-profile vehicles such as big rigs and campers are especially susceptible to the strong, northeasterly winds. A wind advisory is already posted, and the California Highway Patrol could end up restricting travel to high-sided vehicles if conditions become extreme.