Malibu Complete MALIBU WINDS

Malibu Disasters & Hazards: Winds

NASA diagram of the origin of Santa Ana winds that plague Southern California including Malibu.
NASA diagram of the origin of Santa Ana winds that plague Southern California including Malibu.

Freak Wind Events in Malibu

In July 2003, the roof of this building, Los Angeles County Fire Station 70, was damaged by a freak mini-tornado wind event in Malibu.Copyright MalibuComplete.com
In July 2003, the roof of this building, Los Angeles County Fire Station 70, was damaged by a freak tornado-like wind event in Malibu.

The Malibu weather always has the capacity for surprises. For example, in July 2003 a freak mini-tornado, with winds estimated to be as high as 70 to 100 miles per hour, swept through Carbon Canyon and tore the roof off Malibu Fire Station No. 70. Two fireman at the station reported that the winds were so strong that they could see tall sycamores bend all the way over so that the tops of the trees touched the ground and that the station windows started bowing in and out.

The Santa Ana Winds in Malibu

Santa Ana winds occur each fall in the western United States when strong, dry desert winds blow from the northeast, picking up speed as they lose altitude and are squeezed through narrow mountain passes and canyons on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The winds are powered by high pressure systems over the Great Basin, the vast expanse of desert that covers much of Nevada, Utah and southern Idaho. The clockwise air circulation warms up and drops in relative humidity as it moves southwestward. As the winds are driven through the canyons and valleys of the Southern California Mountains that separate the desert from the coastal strip between San Diego and Santa Barbara, the air is compressed and heated as it descends, sometimes dramatically. By the time they reach Malibu, air temperatures over 100F accompanied by relative humidity below 10% (or worse) are possible.

Although a Santa Ana Condition can occur at any time of the year, generally they come mid-fall through the winter in Malibu, with peak danger in October-November. The strong and constant winds, with gusts commonly exceeding 50 mph, are the prime generator of the fire disasters that regularly hit Malibu as well as other parts of Southern California. The extreme low humidity draws the moisture out of plants, soil, and combustible materials while the blowing winds quickly spread any fire faster than firefighters can defend against it. The Great Malibu Fire of 1993 occurred under exactly these conditions.

Even when they are not associated with a fire, the Santa Ana's are a cause for alarm. The can cause physical damage but they also erode the emotions of residents who are spooked by the constant moaning noises, the dry, creepy feeling of the ultra-low humidity, and the electric crackle of static sparks that are common at these times. Although not everyone is so affected, mental stress does go off the scale when the Santa Ana's are blowing.

Winds with Malibu Rainstorms

NOAA/NWS photo of a waterspout near Huntington Beach Pier, February 19, 2005 at 0730 AM.
NOAA/NWS photo of a waterspout near Huntington Beach Pier, February 19, 2005 at 0730 AM.

Storms regularly move onshore in Southern California bringing rain and sometimes strong winds. Such storms are typically part of the winter weather pattern and at least one or two per year can be strong enough to be destructive. In addition to the potential for flooding, some storms have enough punch to include significant wind damage or even wind driven hail. In Malibu, roofs have been torn off, trees snapped, and glass broken by these storm winds.

Although tornado-like storms are rare on the Pacific coast, they do occur. Waterspouts -- the ocean version of a tornado -- are spotted off Malibu occasionally, as in the photo above from Huntington Beach, not far away.

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