Diablo wind

Diablo wind is the name to the hot, dry offshore wind from the northeast that typically occurs in north-central California, in particular, the San Francisco Bay Area, during the spring and fall. The same wind pattern also affects other parts of California's coastal ranges. The term was coined by National Weather Service forecasters (San Francisco Bay Area Weather Forecast Office) John Quadros and Jan Null shortly after the 1991 Oakland firestorm to distinguish it from the comparable, and more familiar, hot dry wind in Southern California known as the Santa Ana winds. In fact, in decades previous to the 1991 fire, the term "Santa Ana" was occasionally used as well for the Bay Area dry northeasterly wind[1], such as the one that was associated with the 1923 Berkeley Fire.[2]

The name "Diablo wind" refers to the fact that the wind blows into the inner Bay Area from the direction of Mt. Diablo in adjacent Contra Costa County, and mindful of the fiery, romantic connotation inherent in the term that translates to "devil wind". The Diablo winds are created by the combination of strong inland high pressure at the surface, strongly sinking air aloft, and lower pressure off the California coast. The air descending from aloft as well as from the Coast Ranges compresses as it sinks to sea level where it warms as much as 20 °F (11 °C), and loses relative humidity.[3]

Like the Santa Ana wind, which because of its source position drains surface air off the high deserts, the Diablo wind pattern is associated with areas of strongly sinking air aloft at jet stream levels and the development of high surface atmospheric pressure. Since the jet stream is mostly absent in the summer, Diablo winds begin to occur in the Fall.

Because of the elevation of the coastal ranges in north-central California, the thermodynamic structure that occurs with the Diablo wind pattern favors the development of strong ridge-top and lee-side downslope winds associated with a phenomenon called the "hydraulic jump".[4] While hydraulic jumps can occur with Santa Ana winds, the same thermodynamic structure that occurs with them typically favors "gap" flow [5] more frequently. Thus, Santa Anas are strongest in canyons, whereas a Diablo wind is first noted and blows strongest atop and on the western slopes of the various mountain peaks and ridges around the Bay Area, although channeling by canyons is also significant.

In both cases, as the air sinks, it heats up by compression and its Relative humidity drops. This warming is in addition to, and usually greater than, any contact heating that occurs as the air stream crosses the Central Valley and the Diablo Valley. This is the reverse of the normal summertime weather pattern in which an area of low pressure (called the California Thermal Low) rather than high pressure lies east of the Bay Area, drawing in cooler, more humid air from the ocean. The dry offshore wind, already strong because of the offshore pressure gradient, can become quite strong with gusts reaching speeds of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) or higher, particularly along and in the lee of the ridges of the Coast Range. This effect is especially dangerous with respect to wildfires as it can enhance the updraft generated by the heat in such fires.

While the Diablo Wind Pattern occurs in both the spring and fall, it is most dangerous in the fall, when vegetation is at its driest. The same pattern can occur during winter, but the air masses drawn to the coastline are quite cold, despite the compressional warming.

See also


  1. ^ Monteverdi, John (1973). "The Santa Ana weather type and extreme fire hazard in the Oakland-Berkeley Hills". Weatherwise. 26: 118-121. 
  2. ^ extract from the Report on the Berkeley, California Conflagration of September 17, 1923, issued by the National Board of Fire Underwriters’ Committee on Fire Prevention and Engineering Standards, reprinted in the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
  3. ^ WEATHER CORNER, San Jose Mercury News, Jan Null, October 26, 1999
  4. ^ Durran, D. (1990). "Mountain Waves and Downslope Winds". Meteorological Monographs. 23: 59–83. 
  5. ^ Gabersek, S.; Durran, D. (2006). "The dynamics of gap flow over idealized topography. Part II: Effects of rotation and surface friction". Journal of Atmospheric Science. 26: 2720–2739. 

Diablo Wind

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