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Climate and Environment

150 Lightning Strikes In One Hour. What Air Surveillance Found In The Angeles National Forest After The Storm

A sign at the entrance of Angeles National Forest telling visitors that it's closed due to the fire hazard.
Forest closure signage is posted along the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles National Forest which, along with all national forests in California, is closed due to dangerous wildfire conditions.
(David McNew
Getty Images North America)
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On Thursday night, a short but intense thunderstorm made its way through Southern California, producing some 150 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes across the San Gabriel Mountains between 11 p.m. and midnight.

Shortly after the storm system moved through, pilots with the U.S. Forest Service flew reconnaissance missions over the area and found three small fires. All have now been handled by crews on the ground, according to Robert Garcia, fire chief for the Angeles National Forest.

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It’s possible that there may be additional fires yet to be spotted, as lightning can hit in remote places, and fires might not always be large enough to be spotted from the air.

That’s why ground crews have been tracking down mapped locations of lightning strikes to guide them to areas of concern. They’re also flying more reconnaissance missions. Smoldering brush could flare in the heat of day — and fires ignited by lightning have grown to be some of the biggest and most destructive recorded.

“It’s not terribly rare for us to see lightning in the summertime when we have our monsoonal season, when we get a lot of moisture coming up from Mexico,” said Ryan Kittell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The lightning usually strikes in the mountains and deserts, though last night there were some strikes over metro areas, as the storm made its way inland from the coast.

There was one particularly aggressive cell that moved in over the San Gabriel Mountains and dumped up to a third of an inch of rain in five minutes, raising concerns about potential flooding in the Bobcat Fire burn area, though there haven’t been any reports of damage.

Despite the moisture, fire concerns were and are still very real. We’re approaching the peak of wildfire season here in SoCal with dry landscapes and Santa Ana winds right around the corner.

Thunderstorms could still build up over the deserts in the mountains through Friday afternoon, but after that the moisture will continue to move east and we’ll stay fairly dry. Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s in the Valley areas through the weekend, but should cool down next week.

What do you want to know about fires, earthquakes, climate change or any science-related topics?
Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.