Could Hurricane Jimena put out California's wildfires?

By , Blogger for the Christian Science Monitor

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    In this satellite image collected at 7:45am EDT Tuesday, Hurricane Jimena is seen off the coast of the Baja Peninsula.
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Hurricane Jimena, with its 135 mile-per-hour winds, is barreling toward the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, and will likely head north after it makes landfall. Meanwhile, wildfires are raging east of Los Angeles, threatening thousands of homes. Is there a chance the hurricane could put out the fires?

Maybe, but probably not. Jimena is unlikely to strike the area of the wildfires. As the Associated Press notes, the storm is heading toward Arizona and New Mexico, well away from Los Angeles.

Still, the rain from Jimena might help a little, as the region has been abnormally dry this year. "There is a chance that there could be some humidity that could help with the firefighting," John Heil, a spokesman for the US Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, told the Bright Green Blog over the phone.

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But even this isn't very likely. The forecasting service AccuWeather describes the odds that moisture from the storm could reach Southern California as "not a zero percent chance." Not exactly a sure thing.

"If Jimena's moisture is able to spread into the region, it would be a great benefit. However, it would take a couple of events like this to really make a difference," said AccuWeather meteorologist Heather Buchman.

Others are concerned that weather conditions could make things worse. Inland News Today quotes the National Weather Service's Rob Krohn, who says that there's a slight chance of thunderstorms near the fires.

It's almost unheard of for a hurricane to strike California. Scientific American quotes National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane expert Chris Landsea (there's a law requiring journalists to invoke the phrase "aptly named" whenever referring to him), who explains that hurricanes in the northern hemisphere tend to move north-northwest, which means that they tend to plough into the East Coast, but move away from the West Coast.

The same article also quotes MIT oceanographer Kerry Emmanuel, who notes that some hurricanes in the Pacific can curve back east. But, he says, the water is too cold off of California's coast to sustain them.

All this scientific stuff aside, what would happen if a hurricane did somehow manage to land right on top of a wildfire? Would the two natural disasters cancel each other out? Or would they combine into a giant blazing hurriflame, perhaps followed by an earthquake and a Godzilla rampage?

Probably the former. The Forest Service's John Heil said he couldn't begin to answer this one because he's never heard of it happening before in California. But there's some evidence that in 2003, the remnants of Hurricane Claudette helped douse wildfires in Arizona.

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