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6/26/2008

Hundreds of fires sparked by rare lightning storm



California, USA
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) In less than a day, an electrical storm unleashed nearly 8,000 lightning strikes that set more than 800 wildfires across Northern California — a RARE example of "dry lightning" that brought little or no rain but plenty of sparks to the state's parched forests and grasslands. The weekend storm was UNUSUAL not only because it generated so many lightning strikes over a large geographical area, but also because it struck so early in the season and moved in from the Pacific Ocean. Such storms usually don't arrive until late July or August and typically from southeast of California. "You're looking at a pattern that's CLIMATOLOGICALLY RARE. We typically don't see this happen at this time of summer. To see 8,000, that's way up there on the scale." Despite the many lightning strikes that hit the ground on Saturday alone, the weekend thunderstorm brought little precipitation because the rain evaporated in hot, dry layers of the atmosphere before it hit the ground. The lightning storm struck California when the state was experiencing one of its driest years on record. From San Francisco to Los Angeles, cities have only seen a tiny fraction of the rainfall they normally receive in a typical year. In the Central Valley, the cities of Sacramento, Modesto, Stockton and Red Bluff have recorded their driest March-to-May periods since at least the 19th century. Even before the lightning struck, California had already seen an UNUSUALLY large number of wildfires, although the fire season typically does not start until July and does not peak until late summer or early fall. "This doesn't bode well for the fire season. We're not even into the meat of the fire season at this point, and the brush is extremely dry. It's not going to get any better, it's going to get worse." The weekend's lighting storm combined with extremely dry conditions to spark about 840 separate blazes. By contrast, 574 lightning-sparked fires blackened about 55,000 acres in Northern California in all of 2007. The weather service has said more dry thunderstorms could strike Northern California later this week. The weather pattern "could happen again across Central and Northern California."

RELATED EVENT
20,000 lightning strikes

North Island, New Zealand
Thunder and lightning roared over Waikato skies last night in an incredible electrical storm which struck the North Island.

HOT SPOTS Image above: A map from MetService shows thousands of lightning strikes in the 24-hours to 8am.
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