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Over 1,000 lightning strikes occurred overnight in California, igniting new wildfires

<i>Kent Porter/The Press Democrat/AP</i><br/>Lightning strikes an area near Sugarloaf Ridge State Park outside of Santa Rosa
Kent Porter/The Press Democrat/AP
Lightning strikes an area near Sugarloaf Ridge State Park outside of Santa Rosa

By Judson Jones, CNN Meteorologist

A wave of thunderstorms moved through California overnight, igniting the night sky as well as more wildfires across the state.

“Approximately ~1100 cloud to ground strikes in the state since last evening,” tweeted the National Weather Service in San Francisco.

In the Bay Area alone, around 110 confirmed cloud-to-ground strikes were counted.

There were too many cloud-to-cloud flashes to count, the weather service said.

The lightning strikes were captured by sensors on a NOAA satellite and could be seen across the state.

While many of these storms brought some beneficial rain to the drought-stricken region, like in San Francisco, many of them were ‘dry thunderstorms.’

A dry thunderstorm happens when the air the rain falls into is so dry the rain evaporates before it hits the ground.

“For many outside of the western states, lightning means heavy rain, and although some storms do bring rain, many are considered dry storms that don’t produce enough rainfall to extinguish the fire that was created,” explains CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

“Lightning in California creates significant wildfires every year,” Myers says. “Many of the largest wildfires in California history were sparked by cloud to ground strikes.”

Unfortunately, that was the case Thursday night.

In the Sacramento area “we saw most of the activity over the central and southern Sacramento Valley and portions of the mountains including the Caldor Fire area,” Idamis Del Valle, a meteorologist with NWS Sacramento, told CNN Weather.

“Firefighters were diverted from the Caldor Fire to fight multiple lightning fires late last night throughout El Dorado County,” tweets Calfire. “Lightning from heavy storm cells passing through the northwestern part of El Dorado County started the largest on Kanaka Valley Road in Rescue.”

This activity is all due to climate change-fueled drought.

“Droughts are part of a vicious cycle that reinforces itself,” CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller says. “When a major drought is in place, like in California now, there is significantly less water and moisture in the ground and thus in the atmosphere via a lack of evaporation. This makes ‘dry thunderstorms’ much more likely during a drought year.”

The lightning is winding down and the winds are picking up

Now the overactive electric activity is coming to an end across the state.

“Most of the activity is winding down right now and is moving to the east, and any lingering thunderstorm potential today will be mostly over the northern sierra south of I-80,” Del Valle said.

But the fires they started remain and once the storms passed, the winds picked up.

For both the two largest fires burning in California — the Dixie and Caldor — windy conditions are expected Friday.

Red flag warnings are in effect through Friday evening for northcentral California.

It will also be windy over the ridgetops Friday, with sustained winds up to 25 mph and gusts generally 25 to 35 mph. Locally, some gusts could reach 50 mph, says the National Weather Service in Sacramento. It is expected to stay breezy overnight, with gusts up to 35 mph before tapering on Saturday.

At the Caldor fire, wWinds are expected to increase Friday and persist, Calfire says, “with gusts up to 60 mph on the ridges and 40 mph in the valleys resulting in more active fire behavior and creating greater potential for spotting in the very dry fuel outside the existing fire footprint.”

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Article Topic Follows: cnn-weather/environment

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