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*Santa Ana winds coming this weekend; red flag warning issued

January 8, 2009 |  1:48 pm

Strong Santa Ana winds drove the Witch fire as it burned homes in Poway in San Diego County on October 22, 2007 Get ready for a warm, windy weekend. Santa Ana winds are expected to flare up Friday, with wind gusts in Los Angeles and Ventura counties predicted to hit 70 mph or more, National Weather Service officials said today.

The high winds are expected to last through Sunday, said Ryan Kittell, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Oxnard.

“Anytime we have gusts over 60 mph, very significant trees can get blown over, power lines can get blown over and we could see some structure damages as well,” Kittell said. “It will be very dry and very windy, and we’ve already put the fire authorities on high alert.”

The weekend winds will be fueled by rainstorms in the Pacific Northwest, he said.

“When those systems move, they deposit cold air into the Great Basin area, which creates high pressure over the top of the Great Basin,” Kittell said. “When you put pressure on that air, it wants to escape out, like opening up a balloon, and that’s what we have going on here.”

Temperatures are expected to climb into the high 70s Friday and Saturday and into the 80s Sunday, said David Sweet, a Weather Service meteorologist. A high of 81 degrees is expected Sunday in downtown Los Angeles, and temperatures should remain in the mid- to upper 70s through much of next week, Sweet said.

“This is our Santa Ana season -- late fall into the early spring -- we're right in the heart of it,” Kittell said.

*UPDATE: A red flag warning will be in effect from noon Friday to 4 p.m. Sunday in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, alerting fire departments to “critical fire conditions.”

The warning, issued by the National Weather Service, will be sent to fire departments in mountain, coastal and valley areas of the counties, said Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist with the agency's Oxnard office.

“More or less, the definition of the red flag warning is that critical fire conditions are here or they are coming,” Bartling said. “With the Santa Ana winds expected to pick up this weekend, they usually dry things out a bit, so that’s what this is about. It’s really more for the fire departments, so they can keep an eye out for anything. The wind advisory is our advisory to the public, and the red flag warning is for us.”

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Strong Santa Ana winds drove the Witch fire as it burned homes in Poway in San Diego County on October 22, 2007. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times