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Southern California at risk for Santa Ana firestorm as early-week heat builds to record levels

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
October 23, 2017, 11:15:31 PM EDT

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As winds and heat throttle up, the risk of wildfire ignition and spread will increase throughout California with the greatest risk in southern areas this week.

The unfolding weather pattern will pose great risk to lives and property.

A strong area of high pressure will build inland over the Great Basin.

Static SW Monday Plain Language

High pressure areas are often thought of as bringing sunshine and benign conditions throughout the globe. However, in certain situations, these fair weather systems can become dangerous, damaging and destructive.

The clockwise flow of air around this ocean of dry, sinking air will kick up gusty winds over the mountains, passes and canyons in California early this week. Winds of this nature are referred to as a Santa Ana.

Following a cool start to the weekend, heat will build as winds rush downhill from the mountains toward the coast.

"Gusts can reach 70 mph in some of the north- and east-facing canyons and passes in Southern California," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda.

Static Santa Ana V2

Temperatures are forecast to reach record levels in Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California through Wednesday. Highs will be well into the 90s F and may top 100 in some locations.

"As the temperature hovers near the 100-degree mark in Los Angeles, baseball fans may experience the hottest World Series games on record late Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Bill Deger.

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Record highs established as far back as the middle and early 1900s will be challenged.

The combination of surging temperatures, increasingly dry air and gusty winds may lead to rapidly spreading wildfires, perhaps similar to that experienced in Northern California about two weeks ago. As a result, people should monitor the weather situation closely and keep up-to-date on local fire conditions.

Northern California also at risk for enhanced fire weather

While the strongest winds and highest temperatures will occur in Southern California, dangerous conditions will also be present in Northern California this week.

Rain and high humidity levels aided firefighting efforts late last week and over the weekend. However, the rain has moved on.

Static AP California Power Restoration Crews Oct. 18

A utility crew works on restoring power to a residence damaged by wildfires on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Glen Ellen, California. Officials have reported significant progress on containing wildfires that have ravaged parts of Northern California. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Temperatures will rise as humidity levels plummet in the coming days.

Temperatures will rebound into the 80s and will top 90 to challenge records in some locations early this week.

Winds over and around existing fire areas will vary and can locally top 30 mph.

While containment continues to increase on most of the nine large wildfires still burning, the flames are not extinguished. Shifting gusty winds will add to the challenge of keeping the existing fires under control and quickly extinguishing new blazes as they ignite.

Wildfires have burned than 245,000 acres and at least 42 people have been killed and 8,400 structures destroyed, according to CalFire.

The Tubbs Fire that devastated the Santa Rosa area is now the most destructive wildfire in California's history. That blaze alone destroyed at least 5,300 structures, burned 36,432 acres and killed 22 people.

Where fires ignite or continue to burn, the combination of smoke and heat will create a significant health hazard in some areas not in the path of the flames.

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