Flip-flops in January? High temperatures meet strong winds in SoCal, sparking fire warnings

Lila Seidman
MALIBU, CA - JANUARY 14: Abigail Pimentel, 18, from Fresno and boyfriend Daniel Diaz, 18, from LA who surprised her with a lunch basket, sparkling apple cider and a spread of flower petals on a beach blanket, as they couple celebrate their anniversary at Malibu Lagoon State Beach on Thursday as temps got into the 80's and Santa Ana winds return to the Southland this week, bringing warm winter weather with gusty and dry conditions, raising the risk of wildfires. Malibu Lagoon State Beach on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in Malibu, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Abigail Pimentel and her boyfriend, Daniel Diaz, enjoy a lunch basket with sparkling apple cider and a spread of flower petals on a beach blanket as they celebrate their anniversary at Malibu Lagoon State Beach. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Unseasonably warm weather is creeping back into Southern California this week, and it’s creating dangerous fire conditions.

Santa Ana winds are slated to pick up force Thursday afternoon, with gusts up to 50 mph in Los Angeles County, as temperatures soar into the upper 80s and humidity drops below 10%, according to the National Weather Service.

The combination of these factors prompted a red flag warning of critical fire danger for the mountain and valley regions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The warning will kick in at 4 p.m. Thursday and remain in effect for at least 24 hours. A separate red flag warning will be in place during the same hours in inland Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains.

Strong winds are not unusual this time of year: Santa Ana season runs roughly from October through February. But the summer-like weather is an anomaly, according to David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Oxnard station.

“The temperatures ... will be up near records,” Sweet said, possibly hitting 90 in some areas.

It hit 81 degrees in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, marking the warmest temperature recorded in the continental U.S. that day, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures are only expected to increase Thursday and Friday.

“Time to get your shorts and flip-flops back out,” the weather service said in a tweet.

A long dry spell is contributing to the fire risk, said Joe Sirard, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Oxnard station.

Save for a lone storm in late December, there's been little precipitation during what is typically the region's rainy season. That leads to parched vegetation that fire can feed on.

"The fuels remain very dry," Sirard said. "If any fires break out, it could have rapid spread and extreme fire behavior."

Still, he said the dryness is "not unprecedented by any stretch," pointing to similar conditions during the same time frame last year.

No rain is predicted for the next seven days, though there's a hint of a possible weather change beginning next Friday and lasting into the weekend, possibly bringing cooler temperatures along with a chance of rain and mountain snow. However, Sirard stressed that the model becomes less predictable beyond one week.

In the immediate future, the weather service advises using caution with potential fire ignition sources. In an advisory, the service urges people not to burn brush outdoors or park vehicles on dry grass, and to stay vigilant around hot grills.

Winds are expected to die down over the weekend, but will likely pick up again early next week, Sweet said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.