California’s recent torrential storms were not enough to end the drought. The state has been so parched for so long that the rains, while welcome, did not provide much more than a few drops in the metaphorical bucket.
But the downpour did help quash two of the year’s worst fires and nourish lands that had been tinder-dry for months. So, did the showers at least save us from a severe fall fire season?
Before we dive in, here’s what the state has already endured this year:
Nearly 2.5 million acres have burned in California through early November, nearly double the amount scorched on average over the past five years, according to CalFire, the state’s fire agency.
This year’s fire season started early, after a dry winter and amid unseasonably warm temperatures. Similar conditions made 2020 the worst fire year on record.
The biggest blaze in 2021, the Dixie Fire, broke out in July and burned for more than three months, wiping out a town and growing to become the second-largest wildfire in California history.
What’s next for fire season depends on what part of the state you’re in. Although California fires typically peak in the summer, major blazes have erupted in December and January in recent years.
Many experts say last month’s rains probably mean no more major fires in Northern California for the rest of the year (though, of course, there are no guarantees).
In Southern California, the situation looks less rosy. The recent rainstorms lost steam by the time they moved south, so places like San Diego and Los Angeles didn’t get quite the same kind of downpours as those that fell on Northern California.
Plus, a La Nina weather pattern is expected this winter, which typically means below-average rainfall for Southern California. In short: The region is dry and will probably stay that way, so fires could very well happen.
While the seven-day fire outlook from the National Interagency Fire Center shows low or no fire danger across most of California, parts of Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are predicted to be at moderate risk this week.
In the coming months, a harbinger of major fires may be the arrival of strong winds, such as the dry Santa Anas that tend to sweep through Southern California in the fall and winter.
There’s some thinking that California experiences two distinct fire seasons: a heat-driven one in the summer that primarily affects inland areas, and a wind-driven one that begins in the fall, hits coastal urban areas harder and has the potential to inflict far more damage because of how quickly the flames move.
On Nov. 8, 2018 — beyond what some then believed to be the end of fire season — two major blazes broke out in California.
One, the Woolsey Fire, tore through the Santa Monica Mountains and, whipped by fast-moving winds, destroyed hundreds of homes in Malibu on both sides of the Pacific Coast Highway.
The other, the Camp Fire, ripped through the mountain hamlet of Paradise aided by strong gusts and killed more than 80 people. That November blaze became the deadliest fire in California history.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.