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Hurricane Kay Brings Rain to the Southwest While Wildfires Rage to the North

September 16, 2022

NOAA satellites have tracked a lot of activity across western North America this month. From wildfires, to a hurricane, to heavy rains in the drought-stricken region, this imagery has been vital in monitoring these events.

While wildfires have become more and more common, recent fires have been particularly devastating. This year’s fire danger was also increased by trade winds from the east, similar to those that tore through in 2020, leading to record-breaking megafires. Unlike the moisture-laden winds from the Pacific, east winds have a tendency to dry out over the Cascade Range and sweep down into western Oregon. The combination of drought, wind, and heat, left the region primed like a tinderbox.

The Cedar Creek wildfire in Oregon began on Aug. 1, 2022 with a series of lightning strikes in the Willamette National Forest. By Sept. 11 it had grown to 86,000 acres and over 2,000 homes were evacuated, while 30,000 foot high pyrocumulonimbus clouds from the fire were producing their own lightning. Smoke from the fire moved into southwestern Washington then the Puget Sound region on Sept. 10. That day Seattle recorded the worst air quality of any major city in the world.

The Mosquito Fire, a large active wildfire burning near the community of Foresthill in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests in California, is one of the major incidents of the state's 2022 wildfire season. As of Sept. 13, 2022, the Mosquito Fire has burned 61,012 acres, surpassing the McKinney Fire– a destructive wildfire burning in the Klamath National Forest in western Siskiyou County– to become the largest fire of 2022 in California. The McKinney Fire consumed more than 50,000 acres in less than 36 hours, destroying more than 185 structures and causing at least 4 fatalities.

In addition to these fires, a newly-formed tropical storm intensified into a hurricane on Sept. 5 over the Eastern Pacific. This storm, named Kay, passed over Socorro Island and later made landfall along the central coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula on Sept. 8 as a Category 1 storm before weakening and heading back over the ocean.

As Californians endure what could be the worst heat wave in state history, Kay was poised to extend extreme temperatures and deliver powerful winds potentially fanning the flames of the Fairview Fire, which has scorched more than 28,000 acres in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles. 

Forecast to make the closest pass to Southern California, Kay brought damaging winds and heavy rains that drenched Mexican coastal states from Oaxaca to Nayarit causing property damage, flooding, mudslides, and three deaths in Guerrero. The storm’s outer bands also hit Southern California and southwestern Arizona, bringing wind gusts of near 100 mph to some areas, primarily in San Diego County, California, as well as heavy rainfall that caused some flash flooding that damaged roads, and power outages in both states. As Kay weakened over land, remnants of the storm reportedly caused localized, heavy damage in Death Valley National Park including road closures due to flooding that left visitors stranded in their vehicles. Rangers even reported “waterfalls” cascading through the park as well as mudflows.

Some of the rainfall was beneficial in helping crews who were battling wildfires in the region, this also included the Fairview Fire in Riverside County, California. In addition, the precipitation has begun to help improve drought conditions as well as lower temperatures where some areas have been under excessive heat warnings

No matter what phenomena occur, NOAA satellites will provide critical data for monitoring hazardous situations.