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Concern over volatile fire season due to weak winter rain

March 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's the beginning of a new season and Southern California escaped winter without a whole lot of rain. That could spell bad news as the temperatures start rising.

Spring has sprung. And as Southern California looks ahead to the start of a dry season, scientists are looking back at what's turned out to be a pretty weak rainy season.

"It's really been a dry winter. If we don't get any more rain between now and the end of June, this would be the fourth-driest winter in 135 years," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Patzert says it's highly unlikely we'll see enough rain to change that fate. And he says that lack of rainfall might be felt for quite some time, with some potentially incendiary consequences.

"One of the things that firefighters are really concerned with as we move into spring and summer is a volatile fire season," said Patzert.

An intense fire burned in the Santa Ana riverbed in Riverside on February 28, relatively early. Cal-Fire says it could be a sign of things to come.

"As it dries out, things are going to continue to dry. If it starts early we're going to be seeing that activity earlier. And as we go through and we hit the winds in the fall, it's going to amp that up again," said Julie Hutchinson, a Cal-Fire spokeswoman. "So what really makes a difference to us is rainfall and moisture, and we just don't have a lot of that in California as a whole, and especially in Southern California."

And what little rain we did have this winter actually came pretty early. That gave grasses a head-start in pollinating. So those prone to sneezing and itching might already be suffering.

If there is any good news for allergy sufferers, it's that because it was a relatively dry winter, there's less growth.

Which means the June-to-September half of allergy season should be pretty light.


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