CA wildfires and smoke conditions
November 26, 2017 9:04 AM   Subscribe

California wildfires: Is there any way to predict how likely wildfires similar to 2017 will be during 2018?

(First, I know how serious the 2017 wildfire effects were, and I'm sorry if speculating about future smoke conditions is insensitive to 2017 survivors.)

I need to decide a range of dates in 2018 when I'd most like to spend a 4-week block living near SF in the Marin Headlands. (One of my questions in an upcoming interview as a finalist for an artist residency there – I tell them a date range or set of ranges, and if I'm selected I'll be given a block within one of those ranges.)

The clear ideal to fit in my schedule would be the range of mid-Sep through end of Oct.

But that's wildfire season and I seem to be really sensitive to smoke – I get nauseated and lightheaded much faster than other people do. (For example, I can't sit around a smoky campfire for more than a few minutes.)

This residency is in former officers' quarters that are nice but 100 years old (no AC and no modern air filtering / isolation from outside air).

My other possible months would be July, August, or November. I'm trying to decide whether I have to default to one of those ranges instead of sep-oct. Trying to balance the value of sep-oct for me vs. the reality that in bad smoke I'd need to travel to some other area of the west coast til the smoke cleared.
posted by kalapierson to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (6 answers total)
I think it's quite difficult to predict, but July and August are also definitely possible times that a fire could occur. November seems like it would be safest to me. (On the other hand, I would think that the risk of a fire bringing terrible pollution to the Headlands even in the summer/early fall is fairly low...certainly the experience in SF/Marin this year was very unusual).
posted by pinochiette at 9:13 AM on November 26, 2017

Response by poster: Ah, thank you – good to know July and August aren't immune.
posted by kalapierson at 9:19 AM on November 26, 2017

The later you can go, the more likely you'll be in rainy season, which would at least be a means of cleaning the air if there were smoke.
posted by lazuli at 10:36 AM on November 26, 2017

Our fire season gets longer every year, it seems, but you'll probably be pretty safe in November. Safer than September and October, for sure.

Keep in mind too that this year, the conditions in the Bay Area were really pretty out of the norm. It may be becoming more normal, but that doesn't mean it's going to become an annual event. The last time we had smoke that bad in the Headlands was about a decade ago.
posted by rtha at 10:41 AM on November 26, 2017

Best answer: This is hard to say, and it's also a multi-dimensional issue because it also depends on where the fire is versus the prevailing wind patterns at the time, humidity, and then the fires of this year will affect the weather patterns and potential for fires next year. I am told that the worst fire years are often the year following an especially wet year, because a ton of juicy undergrowth comes up in early spring and then dies without sustained water, which would be a good description of this year, with the drought breaking and dams being threatened in January and February and now this fire season. I'm hearing predictions of a dryer than normal winter this year, which theoretically means a quieter fire season next year.

But! I think trying to plan around this is mostly like trying to plan around earthquakes. If an event of sufficient seriousness occurs, you'll have to make alternate arrangements. Knowing that and having a general idea of what your Plan B will be is more important than the date range you pick. Pick the ranges that suit your life, see your doctor and get just-in-case prescriptions for rescue inhalers or medication you might need, and convince yourself to evacuate sooner rather than later should something happen, even if it turns out to be unnecessary. Don't pick November, even if that's the most humid option, if November is going to be bad for you otherwise.

The risk you're trying to mitigate is quite small overall - there will always be fires, but very few of them will blow smoke into Marin. This year they did, it might not happen again on any serious level for years.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:55 AM on November 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

November is the least likely to have wildfires, as the rain will have started by then. This year was very unusual, in terms of the smoke blowing southeast towards SF, so not the best year to use as a baseline, as Lyn Never points out. There are fires every year, but the smoke usually gets carried in the other direction.

I will say that it was *very* smoky in the Headlands when the smoke was blowing this way.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:55 PM on November 26, 2017

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