Understanding Sundowner Winds in Santa Barbara and Fire Weather Risk



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Project Description

Gusty, offshore, downslope winds in the Santa Ynez Mountains, accompanied by rapid decrease in relative humidity and increase in temperatures, are considered the most significant fire weather conditions affecting coastal  Santa Barbara County. These downslope winds are locally known as “Sundowner winds” or “Sundowners”, because they typically intensify in late afternoon to early morning, contrasting with the more typical onshore flow. These winds are observed in the southern slopes of Santa Ynez Mountains, which has a distinctive east-west orientation. Sundowners are a major concern during wildfire season because air heats and dries as it descends from the mountains to the sea level, increasing the chance of rapid fire spread in an event of a fire. Such conditions have affected the evolution all major wildfires in the area as, for instance, the Painted Cave (1990), the Tea House (2008), the Jesusita (2009), the Sherpa (2016), Wittier (2017) and Thomas (2017) fire, which are some examples of events responsible for loss of life, injuries, millions of dollars in property loss, and significant environmental impacts. This research will explore all available data obtained from stations, radiosondes, regional model data, among others, to evaluate the characteristics of these events, their cause and impacts on wildfires and the environment in Santa Barbara.

Undergraduate Contribution

Students will analyze data sets, will create  plots, perform time series analyses and write reports. They will be encouraged to present posters in events at UCSB and write scientific articles summarizing their findings and participate in workshops and other activities to discuss their results. 

Requirements/Application Instructions

Interest in physical sciences, particularly in geosciences;  familiarity with Excel and/or programming language is highly desired. Some introductory classes on ocean and/or atmospheric sciences are also desired (not mandatory).