U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service



Mark J. Schroeder
Weather Bureau, Environmental Science Services Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce


Charles C. Buck
Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

MAY 1970



PREFACE ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ IV

INTRODUCTION --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- V

CHAPTER 1. BASIC PRINCIPLES ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I
The primary causes of the actions, reactions, and interactions of the components of the atmosphere and
the elements of weather need to' be understood because the behavior of wildland fire depends upon them.

CHAPTER 2. TEMPERATURE --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 19
The continual changes in land, sea, and air temperatures from hot to cold during day and night and summer
and winter affect fire-weather judgments and predictions.

CHAPTER 3. ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 33
The amount of water vapor in the air-the degree of "wetness” and "dryness" as a condition of fire
weather-must be considered in all evaluations of wildland fire potential and control.

CHAPTER 4. ATMOSPHERIC STABILITY ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 49
The distributions of temperature and moisture aloft, although difficult to perceive thousands of feet above
the surface, can critically influence the behavior of a wildland fire.

CHAPTER 5. GENERAL CIRCULATION --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------68
Large-scale circulation of air and moisture in the atmosphere sets the regional patterns for both long-term
trends and seasonal variations in fire weather.

CHAPTER 6. GENERAL WINDS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 85
An understanding of the mechanics of wind flow as measured and expressed in terms of speed and vertical
and horizontal directions, both regionally and locally, are of extreme importance to the wildland fire-control man.

CHAPTER 7. CONVECTIVE WINDS -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 107
Local surface conditions resulting in the heating and cooling of the surface air cause air motions which can
account for "unusual" wind behavior on a wildland fire.

CHAPTER 8. AIR MASSES AND FRONTS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------127
Both warm and cold air masses, usually coincident with high-pressure cells, migrate constantly over areas of
thousands of square miles. When they are stationary, fire weather changes only gradually from day to, day, but
when they move and overtake or encounter other air masses, weather elements do change-often -suddenly.

CHAPTER 9. CLOUDS AND PRECIPITATION -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------144
Clouds, in both amounts and kinds, or their absence, are indicators of fire-weather conditions that must be
evaluated daily. Some can locally forewarn fire-control men of high fire hazard.-Not all of them produce rain.

CHAPTER 10. THUNDERSTORMS ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------166
When a moist air mass becomes unstable, thunderstorms are likely. Their fire-starting potential and effect on
fire behavior can be anticipated if the weather conditions, which produce them, are understood.

CHAPTER 11. WEATHER AND FUEL MOISTURE ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 180
The response of both living and dead forest and range fuels, the food on which wildland fire feeds, to
atmospheric and precipitated moisture affect wildland fire prevention and control.

CHAPTER 12. FIRE CLIMATE REGIONS ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 196
An overall look and a summary of regional fire-weather characteristics are very helpful to the wildland
fire-control man who travels or changes headquarters frequently.

INDEX ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 221

miles or even a few squar e yards. Department of on important points to look for in relating weather Agriculture. develop into increasingly intuitive. Free-burning fires are literally simultaneously to keep track of its continually nourished by weather elements. Growing awareness of fire weather. Toward this end. but where it was from such a large number of people that it is not necessary for clear and accurate presentation. and Environmental Science Services accurate applications. and atmospheric motion. We have kept the use of material.PREFACE Weather is never static. individual. reviews. The art of the weather from many different locations. preceded each chapter with a paragraph or two Weather Bureau and U. Department of Commerce. when They are all members of two agencies: combined with related experience on fires. and suggestions was received technical terms to a minimum. Watch for her with understanding. Its interpretation is an art. It is always The illustrations are designed to help you "see" dynamic.S. and firefighting. Their help is deeply appreciated. an extremely difficult task. factors to fire control planning and action. changes in these two most important factors and how they cause changes in all other elements We have attempted to present information influencing fire behavior. for without it this publication would not have been possible.S. The illustrations should help you to evaluate fire The environment is in control in wildland weather in all of its dimensions. Out- guessing Mother Nature in order to win control is In the illustrations. Forest Service. atmospheric changing character. rapid. we have Administration. in such a way that your daily and seasonal awareness of fire weather can begin with reliable Assistance in the form of original written basic knowledge. we practical to acknowledge the contribution of each have introduced and defined the proper terms. red represents heat. components. IV . We need to soothe and blue represents moisture . applying complex information about weather to Sometimes you will need a view of the entire the equally complex task of wildland fire control North American Continent-other times you will cannot be acquired easily especially not by the look at a small area covering only a few square mere reading of a book. can U.

the interrelated changes in weather in earth and rotating with it in space. Pressure sometimes taking advantage of it and at other times Wind speed protecting ourselves and our property from it. Familiar terms Sometimes it becomes balmy with sunny days and used to describe weather are mild temperatures. constitute FIRE WEATHER. and blizzards. At high altitudes. tornadoes. But the found in the lower. Such is the case on the weather variations in the air layer up to 5 or 10 moon. does not exist. Precipitation The launcher of a space missile must know. us. as far out as it is sun causes continual changes in each of the above known to exist. T he action he follows that if there were no atmosphere there takes is guided by understanding and interpreting would be no weather.INTRODUCTION What is WEATHER? Simply defined. from The atmosphere is a gaseous mantle encasing the hour to hour. These variations.a basis for judgment is formed. affecting all elements in such a manner that weather is ever changing in both time and space. changing nature of the atmosphere. Wind direction Humidity A farmer needs to understand only that part of the Visibility shifting weather pattern affecting the earth's Clouds surface-and the crop he grows. V . Sometimes it is violent. the type of described in ways related to their influences on weather familiar to us. And sometimes it is oppressive with high humidities and high temperatures. Heat from the the total height of the atmosphere. when atmosphere becomes extremely thin. in order to make his decisions for elements. it is the state The varying moods of the ever-changing weather of the atmosphere surrounding the earth. causing death and So we can say that weather is concerned with the destruction in hurricanes. action. with its clouds and wildland fire. fire weather is combined with the two other factors influencing fire behavior-topography and fuel . But the man whose interest is wildland fire is neither limited to the surface nor concerned with Because weather is the state of the atmosphere. it the whole of the earth's atmosphere. where the earth's miles above the land. These variations are interdependent. denser atmosphere affect all of atmosphere is not static-it is constantly changing. When precipitation. we change our activities. As the Temperature weather changes.

But these elements are measurable. . at other times. All these conditions and changes result from the physical nature of the atmosphere and its reactions to the energy it receives directly or indirectly from the sun. and the measured values change according to basic physical processes in the atmosphere. whereas others are only subtly perceptible to our senses. the region of influence may involve many square miles horizontally and several miles vertically in the atmosphere. These changes in values of weather elements influence the ignition. Chapter I BASIC PRINCIPLES Wildland fires occur in and are affected by the condition of the lower atmosphere at any one moment and by its changes from one moment to the next. We can see or feel some of these component elements. This chapter presents basic atmospheric properties and energy considerations that are essential to understand why weather and its component elements behave as they do. At times. and intensity of wildland fires. fires may be affected only by the changes in a small area at or near the surface. spread.

The lowest layer with height. extending from the top of the mesosphere to the threshold of space. It is a stable region with relatively little turbulence. the depth increases somewhat in the summer and decreases somewhat in the winter. In temperate and Polar Regions. Through most of the stratosphere. In the temperate regions. the temperature either increases with height or decreases slowly. and nearly all of its water vapor and carbon dioxide. 2 . some- times turbulent layer. The thermosphere is the outermost layer. Here occur practically all It is convenient for our purposes to divide the clouds and storms and other changes that affect atmosphere into several layers based primarily on fire.and examine it a little more Closely. It contains about three-quarters of the earth's atmosphere in weight. Temperature in the troposphere decreases with height. The tropopause is usually marked by a temperature minimum. the depth will vary even within seasons as warm or cold air invades these regions. Let us now return to our principal interest . It is characterized by an increase in temperature from the top of the stratosphere to about 30 miles above the earth's surface. This temperature 5 miles over the North and South Poles to about 10 miles over the Equator. Pressure decreases rapidly with height through the troposphere and stratosphere. and then by a decrease in temperature to about 50 miles above the surface. In this layer.BASIC PRINCIPLES structure allows vertical motion and resultant LAYERS OF THE ATMOSPHERE mixing. extending to about 15 miles above the earth's surface. Hence. horizontal winds usually increase their temperature characteristics. The troposphere is capped by the tropopause . except for The depth of the troposphere varies from about occasional shallow layers. It indicates the approximate top of convective activity.the transition zone between the troposphere and the stratosphere. It is characterized by a steadily increasing temperature with height. extending to about 50 miles. is the troposphere.the troposphere . this is a generally mixed. Above the stratosphere is the mesosphere. The troposphere is a region of change – able weather.

or barometer. each cubic foot A common method of measuring pressure is that of comparing the weight of the atmosphere with the weight of a column of mercury. or more in high-pressure systems. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air. Above about 7. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity.000 feet. The total weight of a 1-inchsquare column atmosphere and also may serve as nuclei for the of air extending from sea level to the top of the condensation of water vapor in cloud formation. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb.000 feet of altitude up to about 7. argon comprises about 0. for each 1. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. Measured at successive heights.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. At sea level.7 pounds.01 percent. In addition to these gases. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. atmosphere averages 14. altitude. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. Water vapor tends to act as an independent gas mixed with the A column of air from sea level to the top of the atmosphere weighs about air.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. contains many molecules and weighs 0. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. Thus. the air is extremely rarefied. At atmospheric pressure. The normal value at sea level is 29. or 34 mb. This is the Air. particles. and other industrial pollutants. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. Of the remainder. reading of 29.000 feet. the outer limits of the atmosphere.. virtually nothing.03 percent. A pressure.25 mb.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. . The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude.). the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter.92 inches. It has a profound effect on weather processes. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb.000 feet. smoke. however. compressed by all the air above it.

Temperature. Temperature reflects the condition possesses chemical energy. coldness of a substance. The Absorption of this energy warms the surface of the motion of a pendulum is a good example of the earth. Losses caused by friction both the number of molecules and the degree of of the system appear in the form of heat energy. When a battery is connected to a motor. At the surface and the lower troposphere. energy. molecular activity. determined by the degree The common storage battery in charged of its molecular activity. however. energy is the capacity to do work. transformed from one form to another. and heat is exchanged between the earth's interchange of potential and kinetic energy. and the temperature rises. There are also atomic. chemical reaction produces electrical Fahrenheit scale or the Celsius scale. between energy and mass does occur in atomic reactions. setting it in motion and making it work in many ways to create our ever- changing weather. They are never in balance. a pendulum has potential energy that is expended in the down stroke and converted Heat Energy and Temperature to kinetic energy. chemical energy. the molecular activity increases electrical energy is converted to thermal energy. and are constantly undergoing con- . It cannot be Chemical energy can be transformed into electrical energy. and electrical energy. When change in physical structure (such as lee to water the terminals are connected to a resistor. the or water to vapor). If a substance loses When lightning starts forest fires. This kinetic energy lifts the pendulum against the force of gravity on the Heat energy represents the total molecular energy upstroke. which created nor destroyed. however. and constantly is being.ENERGY IN THE TROPOSHPERE Tremendous quantities of energy are fed into the troposphere. usually source is the radiant energy from the sun. end of its swing. the electrical energy is converted to mechanical If heat is applied to a substance. conversion takes place. and there is no energy in the rotation of the rotor and shaft. radiant energy. the atmosphere. Energy can be. a similar heat. such as the conductor. mechanical energy (which may he either potential or kinetic). but energy is always conserved in the process. and nuclear energy. is defined as the degree of the hotness or forms of energy. All energy. although related The sun is the earth's source of heat and other to heat. and the transformation back to the of a substance and is therefore dependent upon potential energy occurs. Their common potential energy is energy due to position. molecular. with respect to the earth's gravitational field. the molecular activity decreases and the Energy is present in these various forms in temperature drops. comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. version from one form to another. Simply defined. When the average molecular activity and is measured by a battery terminals are connected to a suitable thermometer on a designated scale. At any time and place. again without a change in physical structure. the energy may be in any one form or a combination of several forms. as in the case of Kinetic energy is energy of motion. whereas the pendulum or the storage battery. although a transformation in turn can be transformed into mechanical energy or thermal energy. Its more common forms are heat or thermal energy.

so does energy in a swinging pendulum. 5 .All forms of energy in the atmosphere stem originally from the radiant energy of the sun that warms the surface of the earth. Energy changes from one to another in the atmosphere.

49. volume. The temperature of the in liquids and solids. Thus. Thus. Rising expand when their molecular activity is increased by temperature is accompanied by a decrease in heating. If heat flows between two substances of If the volume of a gas is held constant. cause one substance to get hotter than the other. large bodies of water can store large quantities of heat and therefore are great moderators of temperature.5. while expansion or contraction depends on the size. changes with temperature. has decreases as the temperatures falls. is used in a thermometer to always flows from the substance with the higher measure temperature change. dry air. density. solids and liquids (mass per unit volume) of the gas. determines the direction of net heat substance.. If the Since different substances have different volume is held constant.45 and 0.t. For example. they have different heat capacities. the temperature has neither capability.u. or both. Temperature. lure the volume is fixed. the resulting rise in temperature rises. The expansion and contraction of transfer from one substance to another. the same amount of heat the temperature rises and decreases as the applied to equal masses of different substances will temperature falls. volume temperature to the one with the lower temperature. the pressure increases as molecular structures. most woods have specific heats between 0. In other words.u. 6 . Heat and temperature differ in that heat can be They contract as the temperature falls.65. the energy gained The reaction of gases to temperature changes by the cooler substance equals that given up by the is somewhat more complex than that of liquids or warmer substance.). and decreases as the temperature falls.u. but the temperature changes of solids. The ratio of the heat capacity of a substance to that of water is defined as the specific heat of the substance. is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. A change in temperature may change either the two are not necessarily equal. and temperature to lower. temperature cause significant changes in density With minor exceptions. Either the pressure is constant and the specific heat 0. the pound of water will have volume for equal temperature changes is much decreased 3 1/3°F.0-much higher than the specific heat of other common substances at atmospheric temperatures.24. In this exchange of heat. if 1 pound mospheric processes do not occur under constant of water at 70°F. A unit of heat capacity used in the English system of measures is the British thermal unit (B. Consequently. for example. Thus. or both pressure and volume cause the temperature of the gasoline to rise twice change. and falling temperature is accompanied by an increase in density. Thus. and the pound of gasoline will greater in gases under constant pressure than it is have increased 6 2/3°F. The amount of transferred from one substance to another. If the pressure remains constant. the specific heat of water is 1.t. One B. amount of temperature change. For example. but at any given and stops flowing when the temperatures are tempera. when 3 1/3 B. the as much as this exchange causes the water volume increases as the temperature rises. Heat liquid. ice. and the kind of however. about 0. is mixed with 1 pound of gasoline. and the converted to other forms of energy and can be molecular activity decreases.t. at 60°F. equal. the pressure increases as the different specific heats. 0. the exchange of heat will volume changes. and dry soil and rock. 0. at- of the warmer substance. changes in mixture will then be 66 2/3°F. temperature of the cooler substance will be different from the resulting decrease in temperature Since the atmosphere is not confined.20. the volume or pressure of the gas. The change in been exchanged.

The heat required to convert 1 pound of process and therefore expend some of its internal ice into liquid water at 32°F. expansion is will cause the temperature of the liquid water to rise essentially a cooling process. at sea-level pressure requires the addition of: (1) The heat of fusion. Therefore. point. . are the transformations in our atmosphere between solid (ice) and liquid (water). is 144 B. (at sea-- gas is compressed. when a until it reaches the boiling point. to water vapor at 212°F. work is done on the gas and level pressure). because of the greater energy levels involved.u. Conversely. and also between liquid (water) and gas (water vapor). and its temperature will remain at 32°F. com- pression is a heating process. The water will then begin to this results in an increase To change ice at 32°F. its Under constant pressure. Decreasing the internal energy known as the heat of fusion. the volume increases and the density decreases temperature will rise until it reaches the melting as temperature rises. If a block of ice is heated continuously. Thus. Compression and expansion are continuing processes in the at- mosphere and account for both stabilization and change in weather activity.t. 32°F. Continued heating lowers the temperature. The ice will then begin to melt. Changes of State Much more dramatic. until all of the ice When gas expands. These "change of state" transformations account for much of the energy involved in weather phenomena. and the volume decreases and the density increases as temperature falls. This is (molecular) energy. (2) he heat required he raise he temperature of the water to the boiling point. 212°F. in the internal energy of the gas. and (3) the heat of vaporization. it must perform work in the is melted.

heat is transferred speeded up. for example.u. However. the rate at heat. Conduction is the transfer of heat by molecular If another object is brought into physical activity. The condensation of water vapor into liquid water.t. heat is quickly and evenly distributed over At subfreezing temperatures. Heat added to one portion of a metal rod is conducted away. In copper-clad kitchenware. dry Forest litter is also a poor conductor. are poor conductors.. the receiving surface can dissipate its heat into the absorbing material. that the rate of heat transfer depends upon the convection. etc. temperature rises progressively along the rod. would be required to change 1 pound of water into vapor. paper. and water are poor conductors. Principles of Heat Transfer as well as by the thermal conductivity of the material. until all of the water is changed to vapor.u. Most gases. days. The amount of The rate at which heat moves between or heat involved in sublimation equals the sum of the within substances is affected by the temperature heat of fusion and the heat of vaporization. snow will vaporize without first changing to including air. Heat applied to one of both areas in contact reach the same portion of a metal rod increases the molecular temperature almost immediately. When this process is reversed-and vapor changes to liquid water and water changes to ice-the same amounts of heat energy are released. for example. the rate is 8 deter- . proportional to this temperature difference. they are contact with a heated substance. liquid. water will change to vapor below 212°F. water vapor dead airspaces are used in the walls of buildings as will also change directly into snow or frost. For solid objects. we see direct transfer processes are conduction. example. water in the solid the bottom of the utensils. The heat required to change 1 pound of water into vapor at 212°F.000 times as much heat is Some substances. process is known as sublimation. As the first molecules are heated.change to vapor. to flow between both surfaces at a rate determined This increased molecular activity is imparted to by the speed with which additional heat can be fed adjacent molecules. This is known as the heat of vaporization. Within a verted to other forms of energy and then back to given substance. difference between the source of heat and the substance or part of the substance being heated. Through evaporation. and by the speed with which increases progressively along the rod. directly into vapor. and the during the formation of clouds and precipitation. For example. The surfaces adjacent molecules. which is the temperature difference per unit distance. and the temperature thus to the heating surface. snow. Heat will continue activity and the temperature in that part of the rod. for similar amount of water 1 Fahrenheit degree. At subfreezing temperatures. Heat can also flow between substances or which the cold end is heated by heat traveling from within a substance by one of three basic processes the hot end depends upon the length of the rod. 1. wood. are good released by condensation as by the cooling of a heat conductors. The rate of heat transfer is directly We have already seen that heat can be con. and its temperature will remain at 212°F. temperature gradient. and this energy is transferred to directly to that object by conduction. Either insulation to prevent rapid heat exchange. on very cold. or frost--may change glass. furnishes a tremendous amount of energy to the atmosphere. At 86°F. Other substances like state-such as ice. such as a metal rod. such as copper. About 1. is 972 B. and radiation.044 B. the mount of heat required at lower temperatures is somewhat higher than at the boiling point.t. These When these two principles are combined. without involving other forms of energy.

the temperature at which all molecular motion ceases. This radiation occupies By placing one or two drops of dye in the the electromagnetic spectrum from the shortest water. convection is also a mixing process. the conversion of thermal energy to radiant energy. sponsible for the transfer of heat from the hotter to The radiant energy travels outward from the the cooler portions of the earth. Any substance surrounded by a wavelengths ranging from very long radio waves to more dense fluid is forced to rise by buoyant extremely short X-rays. Transfer of expands and becomes less dense than the energy by radiation occurs over a wide spectrum of surrounding water. A shallow layer adjacent to the ground is heated during the day and cooled at night. The intensity and wavelength of the Radiation is the transfer of energy by radiation depend upon the tom- electromagnetic waves moving at the speed of light. the size of the contact area. emitted by any substance when its molecules are Thus. the longest infrared wavelengths. to the will be shown. The rate of heat emitting substance and retains its identity until it is transfer by convection is highly variable. but. the patterns of rising and sinking currents ultraviolet wavelengths.000 miles per second. the spectrum in which radiation acts as a heat-transfer mechanism. gamma rays. The rays. Convection is much faster than conduction. Radiant energy reflected by a substance does not contribute to its heat content. process. Convection is extremely important in weather processes and will be referred to frequently in later All substances radiate energy when their chapters. Visible light appears near the middle of this cooler. Only radiation in this mass transfer of water carrying its acquired heat part of the spectrum is important in weather with it eventually heats the entire pan of water. the principal role of conduction is the heating and cooling of the air as it contacts hot or cold surfaces. like absorbed and reconverted to thermal energy in an the rate of heat transfer by conduction. water touching the bottom of the pan is heated by unlike conduction and convection. less dense fluid that rises. excited by thermal energy. the throughout the water. while the absorbing from unequal heating and cooling over the earth's substance gains heat and becomes warmer in the surface. As processes in the troposphere. This process. through visible light. 186.mined by the thermal conductivities of the respective materials. The emitting substance loses basically on the temperature gradients resulting heat and becomes cooler. does not require conduction. In the atmosphere. particularly when the general circulation temperatures are above absolute zero (-4600P. and the temperature gradients established within the contacting bodies. more dense fluid flows in to replace the range. it the presence of intervening matter. When Heating a kettle of water sort up convection currents which transfer heat heat is applied to the bottom of a pan of water. Convection is the initial motion responsible for the development of wind currents in the Heat transfer by radiation is accomplished by troposphere. As this portion of the water is heated. and smaller scale winds are discussed. The rate of flow depends upon the differences in density produced We will be concerned only with that portion of by the differences in temperature. Convection is the transfer of heat within liquids and gases resulting from the motion of the fluid. and as a mixing process it is re. it depends absorbing substance. the dye becomes evenly radiation as thermal radiation. producing a uniform color. and cosmic forces imposed on the less dense substance. Thermal radiation is distributed in the water. By this convective circulation. We refer to this the convection continues.). 9 . warmer.

intensities shift toward shorter and shorter wave. 1 For the relationship the temperature must be expressed by use of absolute (Kelvin) scale where 0°K. is -460°F. the radiation intensity would increase 24 or 16 times. is larger radiating surface. The emissivity of any substance is the ratio of its radiation. orange. All radiation perpendicular to the radiation than if it is at an from the earth is in the long wave or infrared range. yellow. the intensity of thermal radiation received The intensity of radiation decreases as the distance from the source increases. temperatures. The increase. as the temperature of the considered. Actually. Since radiation travels outward in straight lines. the perfect radiator is called a black body. The intensity of radiant energy received by a substance depends on two factors in addition to the intensity of the radiation at the source. Since black surfaces approach this emittance most nearly. . These are the distance between the radiator and the substance and the angle at which the radiation strikes the substance. from a point source will vary inversely as the At low temperatures. the combined effects from faster in short-wave radiation than in long wave all of the points within the surface must be radiation. particularly at lower also the cause of our seasons. Among solid materials. With increasing temperature. angle other than perpendicular. The reduction in intensity with distance radiating surface increases. The ideal radiator would be one capable of emitting the maximum heat at all wavelengths.perature and the nature of the radiating substance. The amount of energy received 3 temperature rises. The highest value of emissivity is one. The intensity of the thermal radiation emitted by any substance depends upon its temperature. Therefore. From a longer wavelengths. A beam of the while most radiation from the sun is in the short same width striking at such an angle must cover a wave or visible range. As the from the source. and the lowest value is zero. however. unit area will be greater if the receiving surface is bright red. the visible The amount of radiant energy received by a spectrum appears in the following order: Dull red. and white. the angle not substances are better radiators than transparent only affects the amount of radiation received from substances. 1 If the Kelvin temperature of the emitting substance doubled. the intensity is proportional to the fourth power of the temperature. being a point source of radiant energy. to that of a black body at the same wavelength and temperature. radiation increases in feet from the source will be only one-ninth the progressively shorter wavelengths as well as in the amount received 1 foot from the source. For practical purposes we may consider the sun as lengths. Opaque perpendicularly. the maximum radiation is then somewhat less than from a point source. all the radiation is in the square of the distance of the receiving substance invisible long wavelengths or infrared range. nonmetals are the sun at different times during the day. As we will see later. but it is better radiators than metals. at any specified wave- length and temperature. larger surface area than a beam striking Not all substances are good radiators.

is a good absorber of the sun’s radiation and should not be worn on hot days. Radiation Balance Day and Night Although this nuclear reaction is occurring at a tremendous rate. a process in which hydrogen is infrared. some of the sun's mass is converted to thermal energy. As a receives heat energy from the sun. as well as to emit. about 93 million result. In the process. SOLAR RADIATION EFFEGFS IN THE TROPOSPHERE Radiation is the process by which the earth body at a temperature of about 10. and lesser where the temperature is many million degrees. for example. the amount that reaches the The sun emits radiation as would a black earth's surface is highly variable. This energy is produced in the sun. White clothing is a good reflector and will help keep the body cool. Those that are good emitters are also good absorbers at the same wavelength. the mass of the sun is so great The intensity of solar radiation received at the that the loss of mass in millions of years is outer limits of the earth's atmosphere is quite negligible. the maximum solar radiation is in the visible miles away. Substances vary in their ability to absorb. Black clothing. converted into helium.000°F. radiation. by amounts appear on either side in the ultraviolet and nuclear fusion. A beam of radiation of the same width striking at an angle must cover a larger surface area than a beam striking perpendicularly. 11 . portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. constant. However.

In the absorbed.depending greatly on the amount of clouds in the The reflected solar radiation is unchanged in atmosphere. trapping within the troposphere). as we have seen. either by the atmosphere or by the earth. and since this is short-wave radiation. the atmosphere acts absorbs about 22 percent (20 of the 22 percent much like the glass in a greenhouse. and carbon dioxide each earth's temperature and has its maximum in the absorb radiation within certain wavelengths. the atmosphere Because of this difference. The energy that reaches the earth as direct solar radiation and diff use sky radiation during the day is dissipated in several ways. However. When cloudiness is average. is absorbed again by the water vapor in the atmosphere. clouds are present. which is nearly transparent to the visible wavelengths. A large portion is absorbed and radiated back as long wave radiation. most of the solar radiation is converted back to thermal energy. and the greenhouse warms up. downward into the soil. and the greenhouse effect varies with the amount of water vapor present. Therefore. absence of clouds. The glass. which reaches the earth’s particles of solid matter. It warms up passes directly through the atmosphere and the substance that absorbs it. However. and strikes and warms plants and objects inside. warms the surface. which is from the tops of clouds and is lost to space. surface absorbs about 43 percent. The outgoing radiation is at the Water vapor. Another large portion is used in the evaporation of surface moisture and is transmitted to the atmosphere as latent heat. some is absorbed by gases average temperature does not change. as already mentioned. Some solar energy is reflected back character. is nearly opaque to most of the infrared wavelengths. is reflected back. the earth's some is lost to space. the solar radiation. Solar radiation passes freely through the glass. Some is used to heat surface air by conduction and convection. If infrared region of the spectrum. because in the atmosphere and by solid particles such as the earth in turn radiates energy to the atmosphere smoke. part is absorbed and part is processes that the radiation received and that reflected. and much of this radiation. In the atmosphere it is water vapor that is primarily responsible for absorbing the infrared radiation. and may then be reaches the surface. most of it is lost to space. and some reaches the earth's surface. Of this scattered radiation. reradiated as radiant energy at lower temperatures and longer wavelengths. The presence 12 . This energy is then reradiated outwards at longer wavelengths. the earth's radiation and minimizing the heat loss. Some of this radiation. much of the heat stays inside. and some is conducted Approximate distribution of incoming solar radiation during average cloudiness. Of the radiation finally reaching the It is important to life on earth and to weather earth's surface. surface. the earth's emitted by the earth are at different wavelengths. Some solar radiation is scattered in the atmosphere by gas molecules and by minute The solar radiation. water droplets also absorb some radiation. ozone. and 35 percent is reflected. It is much less in dry air over deserts than in moist air over the Tropics. and to space.

or vapor-absorbs much of the long wave radiation. Solar radiation that reaches the earth’s surface during the daytime is dissipated in several ways. . Moisture in any form-solid. liquid.

But this difference in distance is increases to a maximum at noon (when the sun is much less important in relation to the earth's directly overhead). At night. The earth not than on clear nights. it is radiation. some heat is transported Seasons back to the surface by conduction from the deeper soil below and by conduction and convection from We are all familiar with the four seasons that the air above. The sun is at a focus varies because of the angle with which the sun's of the ellipse. northern summer. but it also revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit The amount of heat received in any given area once in about 365 1/4 days. and maximum at the time of the temperature However. The rate at which the earth radiates there is no appreciable reflection of short-wave heat varies with the temperature. radiation are much the same as during the day. The earth relative to the plane of the earth's orbit. summer. and decreases again to near heating than is the inclination of the earth's axis zero at sunset. and cools off when it loses heat faster earth and long wave radiation emitted by the earth. Heating begins when the sun during the northern winter than during the sun's rays first strike the area in the morning. and therefore loses afternoon instead of at the time of maximum heat. therefore. the difference between incoming and outgoing radiation. both day and night. than it receives it. At night the losses through long wave minimum at the time of the temperature minimum. because of the cooling of the earth's maximum. and the earth is actually nearer to the rays strike the earth. clouds influence heat losses. so near sunrise. 14 . At night there is not cooling of the earth’s surface although some heat The log in the time of maximum and minimum temperature is due to is returned by various methods. These seasons are and in reradiating energy from the earth's surface.of clouds is important because clouds reflect and warms up as long as it receives heat faster than it absorb both short-wave radiation reflected from the loses heat. Again. and autumn. and the minimum temperature occurring solar radiation is received (on the dark side). no appreciable heating. It is this balance that results in the maximum temperature occurring about mid- The earth radiates energy. due to the variation in the amount of solar radiation Because of this trapping by clouds. surface until it becomes colder than either the air above or the deeper soil. only rotates on its axis once every 24 hours. occur at latitudes greater than about 23° winter. They are very effective in reflecting and absorbing spring. the drop in received by both the Northern and Southern surface temperatures is far less on cloudy nights Hemispheres throughout the year.

one must look at the daylight hours is 12 at the Equator and increases to heat balance. whereas the greatest Equator is in the illuminated half of the earth more heating takes place on June 21 and the least heating than half of the day. 15 . the number of During the spring the Northern Hemisphere daylight hours is 12 at the Equator and decreases to 0 receives more heat each day than it radiates back to at 66 1/2°N. the amount of solar radiation received per unit area varies widely. The amount diminishes toward the edge of the illuminated half where the rays become tangential to the earth's surface. and northward. above the Equator throughout the day. To see why. climate. Also. the amount of radiation any area on the earth would receive would remain nearly At the time of either equinox the days and nights are equal. The greatest amount is received where the sun's rays strike perpendicularly. the sun's rays strike described above. In the winter the opposite is true. at the time of After June 21. On June 21 the number of on December 21. the revolution of the tilt of the earth’s axis causes the sun’s rays to strike the earth’s earth around the sun would have little effect on surface at a higher angle during summer than during winter. the Northern Hemisphere begins the vernal or autumnal equinox (March 21 and receiving less heat each day. and northward. the warmest month is July and the longer during the summer. On December 22. Consequently. nor do the lowest normal temperatures occur heat is received during the summer. of the axis is 231/2 degrees from the vertical. The constant throughout the year. the days are Hemisphere. If the earth's axis were not tilted. At all times the sunshines on half of the earth's surface. This inclination. But because of the different angles with which the sun's rays strike various parts of the earth. That is. its mean temperature rises. however.The earth rotates on its tilted axis once every 24 hours and revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit once in about 365 ¼ days. because of at the time of least heating. or tilt. the (lay and night are 12 hours long is still greater than everywhere. every area away from the coldest month is January. from place to place. the highest normal the surface at a higher (more perpendicular) angle temperatures do not occur at the time of greatest during the summer than during the winter. more heating. 24 at 66 1/2°N. (Of course climate would still vary greatly Therefore. In the Northern the inclination (tilt) of the earth's axis. more heat is received during the summer. but the amount received September 23).) The annual march of temperature has a lag similar to the lag of the daily march of temperature Because of the tilt. When the sun is directly space. thus.

variation in the amount of heat reaching the outer Thereafter. Since horizontal distances around the earth have similar effects. such as in thunderstorms. and friction-complicate surface. at the given year at any one place may vary consider ably time the amount received is equal to the amount from the normal for that place. centrifugal force. atmosphere-the weather. as we will see possible to discuss one process thoroughly without later. so the mean temperature predominance of either cold or warm air masses declines. An attempt to regain balance is largely pressure reversals result in local land and sea responsible. Cooled air in turn settles more detail in later low-pressure areas at the winds. the mean temperature is highest. in a general way. if it surface. On a moment and place. the heating of the gradual settling of the air over relatively large earth. but they will be over the poles and initiates return flow toward the introduced here because of their basic nature. but we will postpone our detailed from light updrafts consideration of these forces until later chapters. But as an end having some familiarity with the others. and. This is not due to a radiated. however. Again. air sinks in high-pressure areas. which vary from bare soil to dense cover. Upward motions in the atmosphere range this pattern. Weather processes are so interrelated that it is not primarily the rotation of the earth. the gains and losses are not in daily basis along the coast. this sort of heat energy exchange does take place. Other factors. and returns were not for the continuing transport of energy aloft aloft. result. the amount received each day is less atmosphere from the sun. complicate this simple picture. This differential heating must nearly balance. cumulative differences in temperature and pressure develop broad areas of high and low pressure. Equator to complete the circulation. which we will use in studying the ways of thunderstorms. concerned with weather is in the form of horizontal flows from high. So far we have considered the occasionally severe. at various periods during the year at that location. In July. Compensating down drafts are the weather. Horizontal and Vertical Motion Broad scale differences in the earth's land surfaces. thermal energy more frequently they occur as subsidence-a principles. rises in low-pressure areas. but structure of the atmosphere. weather. These items will be treated in toward the poles aloft. are so much greater than vertical depths in the lower atmosphere. other forces-the effects of the earth's by vertical motion resulting from heating at the rotation. These winds could not blow. the temperature curve for any rises. REACTION OF THE TROPOSPHERE TO HEATING In this chapter we are concerned with basic in weak convection cells to very intense up drafts in concepts. The time of lowest normal temperature and to the predominance of either cloudy or clear may be similarly explained. most of the air motion In general. atmosphere reacts to heating and cooling by looking at horizontal and vertical motion and Heated air rises over the Equator and flows atmospheric stability. in the Northern Hemisphere. since there is very little produces differences in pressure in the long-term change in temperatures. But at a given atmosphere. But over longer periods of time.the amount radiated. Land and water surfaces warm and cool at Over any long period of time. the amount of energy different rates because of their different heat received and lost by the earth and atmosphere transfer properties. Here it is sufficient to point out that motion in the 16 atmosphere takes place on various scales-from the hemi- . and this motion is initiated by unequal heating. Now we will consider briefly how the areas.for most disturbances in the breezes. temperature and balance. which in turn cause air motion. but rather to the than the amount radiated. so the mean temperature still Of course. Weather implies motion in the atmosphere.

In fact. Similarly. Rising air expands and cools. of its own accord. is com- low-pressure areas. tends to continue to rise or fall energy in the rising air.000 feet increase in resistance because of the temperature or density altitude. If a parcel. De- intermediate-scale motion involving broad high. if the parcel is lowered mass or parcel of air decreases as the air expands. Atmospheric Stability unsaturated air-cools at the fixed rate of Vertical motion in the atmosphere encounters approximately 5. more dense air. the atmosphere is neutral. tends to remain at its surrounding air. it will fall to its original level or to the pressure in the atmosphere de. it provided no heat is added to the parcel. through the temperature of the rising air lowers. permitting it to expand. per 1. by mixing with the surrounding air. and is then surrounded by cooler. energy required for expansion comes from the heat moved up or down. This is the dry-adiabatic lapse rate. which has cooled at the learned the two basic concepts necessary to dry-adiabatic rate.and scending air. If no heat is gained or lost circulations. The new level. The will rise to its original level. and second.spheric motion of the general circulation. we can define Unsaturated air brought downward adiabatically atmospheric stability as the resistance of the warms at the same rate. this is an adiabatic process. creases with level at which it has the same temperature as the height. becomes immersed in warmer. by the reverse process. to small eddy motion. understand atmospheric stability -first. . that less dense air. In the adiabatic lifting process. We have already If a lifted parcel of air. The surrounding converse of these concepts is also true. atmosphere is then stable. this is an adiabatic process. Consequently. If a parcel. Sinking air is compressed and warmed. If no heat is gained or lost by mixing with surrounding air.5°F. through smaller and smaller pressed and warmed. the atmosphere is unstable. that the temperature of a small surrounding air. moved up Rising air encounters lower pressures in the or down in the atmosphere. structure of the atmosphere. atmosphere to vertical motion.

A raised (or lowered) ready to consider more thoroughly some of the parcel of air would then be warmer (or colder) than static properties of the atmosphere. In such an atmosphere.000 feet indicates a neutrally stable atmosphere. If the environmental lapse rate is less than between 2°F.000 feet. and then we will movement. . per 1. per 1. an unsaturated With the background of this chapter. This rate varies according to the exactly the same temperature as the surrounding amount of water vapor in the parcel and is usually air. clouds. If the environmental lapse rate is air to lifting and sinking. the rate of temperature environmental lapse rate. A layer of air in Moisture in the atmosphere. Such a layer is called an are directly related to these adiabatic responses of inversion. neutral.000 feet. The surrounding atmosphere respect to unsaturated air. This is the 5. and 5°F. such as its surroundings and would continue its vertical temperature and humidity. per change of the parcel is less than the dry-adiabatic 1.000 feet. rate because of the addition of the latent heat of A parcel of dry air moved up or down is then at vaporization. Atmospheric stability can be determined from A similar process applies to an air parcel that the measured rate of temperature change with has been cooled enough to condense part of its change in height in the free air. A change of 5.5°F. per 1.5°F. tend to return to its original level. or unstable by a parcel of air moved up (or down) would be colder comparing its lapse rate with the moist-adiabatic (or warmer) than the surrounding air and would rate. greater than 5. and many other weather phenomena extremely stable layer. the atmosphere is stable with moist-adiabatic rate. which the temperature increases with height is an precipitation. we are now atmosphere is unstable. called the water vapor. In this case.5°F. is then judged to be stable. consider the dynamic weather processes.

fuel moisture..g. and of the air around and above them. . through. Temperature directly affects the flammability of forest fuels. An understanding of local temperature variations is the first step toward a better understanding of almost every aspect of fire behavior. its influence on other factors that control fire spread and rate of combustion (e. since the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of the fuels to the ignition point depends on their initial temperature and that of the surrounding air. is one of the key factors in determining how wildland fires start and spread. Temperature indirectly affects the ways fires burn. and atmospheric stability). wind. Chapter 2 TEMPERATURE Temperature of forest fuels.

and the boiling point of water is 100°C. On accurately scaled in terms of actual temperature the Fahrenheit scale. TEMPERATURE Temperature was defined in chapter 1 as the controlling factor. In these surface and air temperatures and why they occur. if sunlight strikes the bulb of O°C. In the familiar mercury or restricted as much as possible to conduction. a difference of 180 immersed in a liquid soon comes to a temperature Fahrenheit degrees. etc. Sometimes portable instruments permit satisfactory measurements. change from hour to hour. But in fire weather.8°F. Thus. from a In this chapter. Measuring scale is also used in most scientific work around the air temperature is a bit more difficult. To avoid this difficulty. however. cannot be defined of the earth and from long-wave radiation from the from measurements made at the usually widely surface. is equal to 1. and on how thermal energy is transferred concerned with smaller scale patterns-those that between the earth's surface and the lower air. more frequently local variations must be identified reaching effects on general atmospheric circulation. and the boiling point of water is 212°F. from one forest type to another. we will consider variations in closed canopy to a forest opening. During the world. but We will see later that temperature has far. the melting point of ice is 32°F. the liquid from a small standard instrument shelter provides this shielding reservoir expands into a long column with a very at fixed locations while still permitting free flow of small inside diameter. At C. We also learned there that the atmosphere is warmed Large-scale weather patterns are commonly only slightly by direct. patterns. the reading will be higher than the difference of 100-Celsius degrees. the reading converted to °F. bulb. 1 degree air temperature because of direct radiation. if the bulb is exposed to the sky. a ratio of 5 to 9. the United States. A alcohol thermometers. Thus. Small-scale patterns conduction and convection from the heated surface and their variations. air past the thermometer in 20 . temperature variations also are often the MEASURING TEMPERATURE Fahrenheit. These are all important surface materials and the air around them takes to fire weather. by judgment based on personal knowledge of the the formation and movement of air masses. under A thermometer embedded in a solid or standard sea-level pressure. we are also place. This actual temperature of the substance. spaced fixed stations.. Celsius We measure temperature in degrees on the expansion is sufficiently magnified so it can be arbitrary scales based on fixed reference points. is night. On this scale the melting point of ice is the day. by multiplying by 1. which is commonly used in change. and shows the commonly reported on the Celsius scale. Most of the warming takes place by weather observation stations. °C. Upper-air temperatures are equilibrium with the substance. for example. degree of hotness or coldness of a substance. a the thermometer.. thermometers are usually The operation of common thermometers is based shielded from radiation so that the exchange of on the expansion and contraction of substances heat between the thermometer and the air is when heated or cooled. mainly short-wave. from one slope facet to another. solar identified by sampling the weather at regular radiation.8 and adding will be influenced by the outgoing radiation from the 32. and detailed ways in which heating and cooling of regional weather patterns. and will be lower than the air temperature.

All three processes vary continuously. Nine degrees Fahrenheit equals five degrees Celsius. The causes of these temperature changes are many and varied. has a greater range than Some factors affect surface temperatures by does that of air. Certain standards of thermometer exposure have been established so that temperature readings at one weather station may be compared to those at another. the local topography. processes. Locations near buildings or other obstructions are avoided. and should be representative of the surrounding the resulting temperature variations. Then it is necessary either to take closely spaced measurements to show the temperature variations. Measurements are made at a standard height of 4 1/2 feet above the ground. (2) The two common temperature scales in use are Fahrenheit and exchanging of heat between the surface and the air Celsius. and becomes the driving force of weather weather station. heat is exchanged between the earth's surface and the Representative Measurements atmosphere. except water and ice. A hand-held thermometer should be kept the atmosphere to other forms of energy. The local variations in temperature that are avoided when readings are used for fire-weather forecasting or for area fire-danger rating become most important when judgments must be made concerning fire behavior at a particular time and place. as are types of ground surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. seconds to insure a comparable reading. In the process of warming and cooling. and (3) conversion of thermal energy in side. and vice shaded and should be swung rapidly for a few versa. these include the type of ground air temperatures. energy. and the height above the ground. Purely local effects are avoided where possible. affect the consider surface temperatures and then consider air temperature. which would obviously affect temperature readings. However. three important processes underlie all causes: (1) Heating and cooling of the earth's surface by radiation. We have considered some of these factors in chapter 1. The temperature of surface influencing the amount of solar radiation that strikes materials is important because the air is primarily the surface or by trapping the earth's radiation. as we will see. 21 . Many factors. EARTH SURFACE TEMPERATURES Effects of Factors Affecting Solar Radiation The temperature of the surface of most heated and cooled by contact with heated or cooled materials comprising the surface of the earth. let us first conditions. above it. To understand these processes. to be most useful in fire control. surfaces. surface. nearby buildings or trees. Some of the heat transferred to the atmosphere is transformed to potential and kinetic The measured air temperature at a fire. or to make judgments based on personal knowledge of where and how these variations might occur.

and objects such more nearly perpendicular to incoming radiation as trees. In open stands rays from the sun during most of the day than do of timber. Lower Right. Both the steepness and the aspect of a Shading and scattering by any means. In general. – Clouds both absorb and reflect incoming nearly perpendicular to different slopes and aspects at various radiation and thereby reduce surface temperatures. surface temperatures vary considerably from shaded to sunlit Lower Left. its rays are more nearly incoming radiation. Surfaces clouds. surface. and actually reduce the hours of perpendicular to different slopes and aspects at sunshine. – In open stands of timber. Conversely. than do those more nearly parallel to the incoming radiation. may have a surface temperature throughout the day according to the temperature in midsummer as high as 175°F. and become warmer. the topography cause local variations in the angle at highest surface temperatures are found on slopes which the sun's radiation strikes the ground facing to the southwest. . but the maximum temperature surface temperature. its rays are more areas. – As the sun arcs across the sky. South-facing slopes receive more nearly direct rays than radiation receive more heat per unit area. east-facing slopes reach their cooling and lower surface temperatures. All vegetation creates some shade. smoke or haze in the air. As the sun higher ridges shield lower elevation surfaces from moves across the sky. Differences in temperatures later in the afternoon. maximum temperature rather early in the day. South-facing slopes. but various hours. In hilly or mountainous regions. More hours of daylight mean on a slope depends upon both the inclination and more heating and higher surface temperatures. position Upper Left. do north-facing slopes. shaded and unshaded areas change north-facing slopes. – Surfaces more nearly perpendicular to incoming hours. A lower sun angle results in the reception of Level surfaces reach their maximum tempera- less solar radiation per unit area and a lower tures around noon. more hours of darkness result in more Accordingly. Topography plays an important role in local west-facing slopes attain their maximum surface temperature variations. reduce the solar radiation reaching the receive more heat per unit area than do those more ground surface. such as slope affect surface heating and cooling. Upper Right. orientation of the slope and on the time of day. nearly parallel to incoming radiation. which in the the variations in type and density cause local Northern Hemisphere receive more nearly direct differences in surface temperatures.

these surfaces become quite much as 50-60°F. whereas light materials reflect most of conductor. Leaf litter is production of food and in the vaporization of the an moisture released by transpiration. layer. Both radiator. while opaque causes significantly lower daytime surface materials are not. Incoming radiant energy striking a good wavelengths. tree crown in a forest will rise also. and higher nighttime temperatures. The same radiant reflectors of radiation. even when a certain amount of However. dry air masses. both vary with the wavelength of the radiation and the temperature. However. but not as Wood. But under identical wavelengths Both liquid water droplets in clouds and the water and temperature. plowed land. such as in the slowly penetrates to warm the interior. Water droplets in color. We will see later that these Thus. also an extremely good absorber and a near perfect influence the cooling of the surface at night. it is not the most important reason. snow will reflect 80 to 85 percent of the incoming within 3 minutes as a thick cloud passes overhead short-wave radiation. which affect its turbulent motion is more important in distributing resulting temperature. Tree crowns. is rapidly transmitted as this radiation back to space. a snow surface heats up little absorb much of the outgoing thermal radiation. The wavelengths. This accounts for its white in clear midsummer weather. In the visible portion of the spectrum. Dark materials A third property is the conductivity of the generally absorb most of the radiation in the visible substance. heating a larger volume. Since dark soils and heat through the material. The thicker and lower the clouds. surface temperatures normally are much characteristics make snow ideal for the formation of lower on clear nights than on cloudy nights. and forests in the winter. This is Effects of Surface Properties one reason why opaque substances such as land become warmer during the day than water does. The radiation strikes a surface.of the sun. raising the temperature forest litter are rather good absorbers and poor of the metal to a uniform level. and clouds reflect much of the solar Snow is an interesting substance in that its radiation. well at night. at least initially. substances is concentrated in a shallow surface when skies are otherwise clear. there are several downward mixing of warmed surface water by properties of the substance itself. and during the day. the properties are very different at different less incoming radiation strikes the surface. and heat much. lack of water vapor in the air is one reason why surface temperatures in the desert become so low A second property of surface materials affecting at night. such as metal. Substances 23 . They both absorb some incoming radiation. If they are not supplied temperature variations during the summer of as with heat from within. like clouds. raising the quite hot on sunny days. Water is fairly A blanket of smoke from forest fires. for example. But radiation penetrates deeply into water. and invisible water vapor in the air. Therefore. In open pine forests. Surface temperatures respond quickly that are good radiators of long-wave radiation emit to these changes. Dark pavements will become concentrate heat near the surface. In deciduous cold at night. however. the incoming heat through a large volume. For example. Some of the incoming radiation is used in applied to it concentrates at the surface and only processes other than heating. grass. The cold. but cools by radiation extremely some of this heat is reradiated back to the earth. snow is clouds. is a poor conductor. within a few feet. temperature is transparency. they will become hotter than energy applied to a poor conductor tends to light-colored soils. there will be a fair degree of sand are all good radiators. uniformity of ground temperature. First is the capacity of the substance to absorb or reflect radiation. The heat absorbed by opaque temperatures. The temperature of the surface temperature higher than that in the interior. marked differences in ground temperature The absorptivity and emissivity of a surface are noted both in summer and winter. surface temperature may drop as much as 50°F. For long-wave radiation. temperatures. absorptivity and emissivity are vapor in the atmosphere directly affect surface assumed to be the same. a forest floor with heat rapidly from their surfaces at night when a mottled sun and shade pattern may have exposed to a clear sky. transparent to incoming radiation.

A weathered board. For these two reasons. and its temperature changes 1°F. needles. sand. is concentrated in a shallow moist regions. such as land. Center – Heat absorbed reason why and semiarid areas. such as wood.t. damp soil. At night.u. clay. when 1 B. is another reason why the surface temperature of substances vary under similar conditions of incoming and outgoing radiation. the surfaces of good conductors do not cool as fast as those of poor conductors so long as there is heat below to replenish that lost at the surface by radiation. simply because it takes less heat to change its temperature. We learned in chapter 1 that different substances have different heat capacities. with a change of 1 B. which has about half the specific heat of water. so porous substances such as duff or litter with many air-spaces will bar the passage of surface heat to the soil below. that absorbed by a poor conductor. have both higher daytime surface layer. and the surface becomes quite hot. but not as much.u. Moist surfaces. Water has a high specific heat. Litter surfaces composed of dry leaves. because of the heat used in evaporation and re- other poor conductor. when compared with by opaque substances. for example. Dark pavements become quite hot in sunlight. and water. or dry soils. Wood. changes about 2°F. of heat energy per pound is gained or lost. Bottom – Radiant energy absorbed by a good conductor. such as metal. while temperatures. when compared with dry Top – Surface materials differ in their absorptive and reflective surfaces. and stone change about 5°F. the surfaces of poor conductors get hotter during the day and cooler at night than the surfaces of good conductors. although not as efficient conductors of heat as metals. the surface temperatures of substances are greatly influenced by the presence of moisture. whereas none has formed on the nearby ground. 24 . Materials like charcoal. Radiation penetrates deeply into water and warms a larger temperatures and lower nighttime surface volume. as mentioned above. are much better conductors than wood. Air is a very poor conductor. A substance with a low specific heat will warm up rapidly as heat is added to it. as surfaces cool by radiation. lying on bare ground in the open may have frost on it. The specific heat. Since water has a high specific heat and is a fairly good conductor. dark day or as low temperatures at night. Common rocks.t. To summarize. and that the specific heat of a substance is the ratio of its heat capacity to that of water. and grass have low heat capacities. and. tends to The presence of moisture is also important concentrate near the surface. direct solar radiation often heats litter surfaces to temperatures far above the temperature of the overlying air without heating the soil below. other organic fuels. will not reach as high temperatures in the properties. This is another soils become warmer than light soils. is rapidly transmitted through the material. are also poor heat conductors. then. ashes. per pound. The temperature of tree crowns will rise also.

then. although slow modification takes place during its travel. For example. it gradually takes on the temperature and moisture characteristics of the underlying surface. At night. cooling takes place at the surface with a corresponding reduction in the surface temperature. when the body of air. At night the effect of strong winds is to prevent low surface tem- peratures by mixing warmer air downward and bringing it into contact with the surface.. AIR TEMPERATURES The exchange of heat between the air and the surfaces over which it flows is the master controller of air temperatures. taking place everywhere at all times. it tends to retain these characteristics. called an air mass. under the same away from warmed surfaces and lowers surface temperatures. The air-mass temperatures impose some restraint on the daily heating and cooling that the air Strong daytime winds cause turbulent. increasing evaporation from moist surfaces and thus restricting the temperature rise. is another reason why surfaces of moist substances have lower daytime temperatures than dry substances. will raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. and the temperature of this air will increase rapidly. which carries heat away from the heated surfaces. an equally large amount of heat is liberated to warm the surface. such as the oceans or the polar regions.u. Thus when water is evaporated from a surface. the daytime heating and mixing are confined influence on surface temperatures. This air movement also transports moisture. to a shallow layer. a cold air mass will not reach as high a temperature 25 . which carries heat mass encounters. This exchange is a continuous process. where some of the heat can be transferred to the ground by conduction. Thus. Transfer of beat between the surface and the air is improved by mixing. Effect of Wind Strong daytime winds near the surface tend to prevent high surface temperatures. When a large body of air comes to rest or moves very slowly over a land or sea area having uniform temperature and moisture properties.000 are required to evaporate 1 pound of water under normal conditions of pressure and temperature. We have seen that while 1 B.t. This. if vapor condenses. conditions of daytime heating. moves away from this region. windiness has a moderating In a stable air mass. mixing.leased in condensation. nearly 1. Then.

The final depth through which heat from the The effect of wind on heating of the air is similar surface is distributed through the atmosphere will be to that of stability. perature of air near the surface. If the lapse rate turbulence and mixing so that heat is distributed is stable through a deep layer. much of the outgoing radiation from below is intercepted and reradiated back to the surface. We will now consider how local changes in air temperatures are produced within the limitations of the air-mass temperature. If.000 to 2. we can see that the characteristic air-mass is forced upward by cooler. radiation. throughout a deep layer. dry air. Water vapor and clouds also lose heat to the sky by their own radiation. Winds at night also reduce the cooling of surface air by bringing down and mixing warmer air from In a relatively unstable air mass. more dense air. 26 . depending mostly on the rate. It is primarily the surface air layer. The surface begins to coot first by radiation. Another factor in the heating of the air near the surface that we should not overlook is the absorption of the earth's long-wave radiation by water vapor. the daytime mixing and through a deeper layer and the temperature rise of air heating of the atmosphere will be confined to a fairly near the surface is less. and the rise in air through direct contact with the warmed surface of the temperature near the ground will be less and slower. The greatest temperature shallow rises resulting from surface heating occur with light winds. the Incoming solar radiation heats the air directly temperature lapse rate approaches the dry-adiabatic only 0. The rest of the heights. calm nights this is the primary method of cooling. most of it by conduction. but at a slower rate than the heat lost near the surface through clear. per day.5-1°F. earth. hooting and mixing will take place throughout a deep layer. which is cooled while the air aloft may remain near day temperatures. heated air parcels will be carried to much greater amount of water vapor present. This temperature at several thousand feet above the convection may distribute the heat through a depth of surface is important in estimating the maximum tem- several thousand feet during the day. and convection-as it heats during the day. The heated surface air becomes buoyant and Thus. Then the heating and mixing take place heating comes from below. layer of perhaps 1. This process does not ground will rise slowly and to a smaller extent. How Air is Cooled Air-cools at night by the same beat transfer a warm air mass. and the How Air is Heated temperature of this layer will increase rapidly. cooling the air in contact with it. and the air temperature near the above. these lower layers are heated by absorption of earth radiation as well as by conduction and convection. On clear. When clouds or significant water vapor is present.000 feet. the surface is cooled more slowly. Strong winds cause more affected by the lapse rate of the air. through a layer of air several thousand feet deep. Since most of the water vapor is concentrated in the lower layers of the atmosphere. Thus.

while at the shelter heat-absorbing properties. such as dark soils and surface ma- decrease with height in the troposphere at 45° N. Early in the morning. but only to the level where its temperature is equal to that of the surrounding air. the dif- VERTICAL VARIATION OF AIR TEMPERATURE We have seen that the atmosphere is heated On days with strong surface heating. heat is lost to the dry-adiabatic is called a superadiabatic. that transmit signals electrically to continues. eliminates the night inversion. rate. Such rates are conducive to convection and vertical measurements are made by instruments. heated air parcels do not rise any time. We also the ground can become quite hot. Another reason for the change toward the dry-adiabatic. are caused by the inflow of warm air above. but normally it is confined with height. but it does ference between day and night air temperatures is spread its effects on air temperature through a much greater near the surface than it is aloft. At the surface know that the gases and substances with good the temperature may be 150°F. and over surfaces with the highest The year-round average rate of temperature temperatures. Local winds may be quite gusty. and especially feet. heating begins at the surface. though less common than at the surface. and gradually the warmed layer becomes deeper and deeper. warming air in a very shallow layer. per 1.5°F.000 feet. As mixing to balloons. dry-adiabatic lapse rate. smoke. Under extreme conditions such a lapse rate that the temperature of the atmosphere decreases may extend to 1. measurements or soundings. excessive heat is continually supplied to the and as air is moved down it is compressed and surface. Such liquid water.000 Often under calm conditions. In the lowest layers of the atmosphere.slow the surface radioactive cooling. such as water vapor. Inversions aloft. show that early in the morning a shallow layer of air is heated. The warm air is forced upward. A lapse rate that exceeds At higher levels in the atmosphere. and dust. We generally find this situation when to the first few hundred feet. Superadiabatic lapse we measure air temperatures aloft. maximum temperature about mid-afternoon. strong decrease of temperature with height is that air superadiabatic conditions persist during times when expands and becomes cooler as it is moved up. therefore. In any altitudinal range in the troposphere at over flat terrain. We should expect. however. deeper layer. On the average. Each stratum may have its individual temperature structure. They develop most readily with clear skies becomes warmer. and reaches its reaching its maximum depth about mid afternoon. air next to from below by conduction and convection. 27 . terials. The warmed layer Successive plots of temperature against height an a clear day becomes gradually deeper with additional heating. and light winds. or by subsidence in large high-pressure systems. as determined from many hundreds of areas. Therefore. height (4 1/2 feet) it may be only 90°F. is 3. particularly burned-out and blackened latitude. attached mixing. the superadiabatic lapse rate tends to receivers on the ground. the change of temperature with height varies con- siderably from day to night. lapse space by radiation. the lapse rate may deviate significantly from this average. The atmosphere is often stratified as a result of horizontal motion aloft. however. are more changes in temperature with height far exceed the concentrated in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

as cooling continues during the night. Smoke from chimneys rises until its temperature matches that of the surrounding air. Surface inversions forming at night are commonly referred to as night Night Inversions inversions. are as the night progresses and forms a surface strongest and most noticeable at night. resulting in poor visibility. its depth generally less than that of the inversion. moist air may vary in depth from a few Plots of temperature against height during the night hours show that the air is first cooled next to the ground. Such an night and move inland into coastal basins and inversion may involve a temperature change of as valleys. They have inertia and remain on the surface until some disturbance permits cooler surrounding air to flow in beneath and provide the needed buoyancy. cold. The drop in Coal. turbulence and mixing distribute the cooling through a deeper layer. stratus clouds are likely dense and readily flows down slopes and gathers in to form. fog usually much as 25°F. The cold air is forms. calm. radiating surfaces. On windy nights. gradually deepens Night inversions are common during clear. Inversions trap impurities. Cloudiness and water vapor in the atmosphere limit the formation and strength of night inversions by reducing the rate of outgoing radiation from the earth. causing the inversion to become deeper and stronger. If the cold air is quite shallow. is the coastal or marine inversion. moist air from the ocean spreads over low-lying land. compared with calm nights. The layer of cool. Dust devils and small whirlwinds are common indicators of this buildup and escape of hot surface air. Winds may reduce and sometimes prevent the formation of a night inversion. This disturbance might be a sudden gust of wind or some other mechanical force. forming a weak hundred to several thousand feet. unstable air mass. moist air from the ocean spreads over nearby low-lying land areas beneath the marine inversion. although they may persist in some areas during the day. They are usually easy to identify. it is generally shallow ground fog. If fog forms in the cold air. Marine Inversion A common type of warm-season inversion. primarily by contact with detail. topped by a much warmer. Marine inversions. Fog and inversion. This is a surface layer in which the stratus clouds often form in the cool marine air at temperature increases with height. and factory and traffic fumes. pockets and valleys. and the temperature decrease is less. This layer is surface inversion. temperature near the 28 . Then it flattens out and spreads horizontally. drier. Night inversions are so important in fire behavior that we should consider them in some Air cooled at night. in 250 vertical feet.immediately. Ground fog in patches in surface depressions along highways is formed in small-scale inversions. settled weather. and relatively the layer of cooled air gradually deepens. Then. If the layer is deep. found particularly along the west coast. smoke. Here cool.

and the depth may then remain constant or even reversed when the wind picks up. From this level. it is known as the thermal belt. Inversion layers are both more common and intense in lower mountain valleys or in basins with poor air drainage. At this level are both the highest minimum temperatures The zone of warm nighttime temperatures near the top of the and the least inversion is known as the thermal belt. temperatures decrease with height. mixing is reduced in the lower layers. Inversions slightly from this expansion. daily temperature variation of any level along the slope. Here also are the lowest nighttime relative humidity and the lowest nighttime fuel moisture. the height of the top of night inversions. wildfires can remain quite active during the night. Under unstable conditions. fog may form. if a night inversion is able to form. however. is usually below the main ridges. not be as intense. often with down slope winds. Topography plays a decided role in both the formation and intensity of night inversions. and those occurring will the inversion along the slopes. decrease slightly just before sunrise. A maximum depth is reached during the middle of the ground at night is thereby often abruptly stopped or night. Because of these characteristics of the average level of the inversion top. and stable air. Within the thermal belt. the top reaching farther up the temperature equals that of the surrounding air. fires are in cool. may be offset by stronger winds and less stable air as fires penetrate the region above the thermal belt. Then the cold layer Smoke released into an inversion layer wilt rise only until its gradually deepens. then the smoke slope with the continued cooling from the surface flattens out and spreads horizontally. 29 . Above the thermal belt. The height of the warmest air temperature at the inversion top can be found by measuring temperatures along the slope. humid. If the air is Night inversions are shallow but more intense sufficiently cold and moist. although it varies from night to night. In mountainous areas. the temperatures decrease as one goes farther up or down the slope. the cold air. than in flat areas. surface heating begins to warm atmosphere is stable. and the inversion top may actually rise convection distributes available beat. Below the thermal belt. They form early in the evening at the canyon bottom or valley floor and at first are quite shallow. Night inversions in mountainous country increase in depth during the night. when the overall temperature structure of the After sunrise. The effect of the lower temperatures. This descent of cold air results in the formation of deep. and the flow of cold air from adjoining slopes. However. cold layers and inversions in valleys. Cold air layers are quite shallow on slopes and in open canyons or ravines where the cold. dense air can drain away as it is formed. As heating destroys are therefore less likely.

although never distribution depends upon the nature and density of as rapidly as over bare ground. and this surface acts as the effective ground surface. Above the tree crowns the temperature In all vegetative cover. ground. nighttime temperatures are near the top of the Less dense vegetation will permit more solar brush or dense plant cover. in effect. and with the air are lower than bare ground. vegetation moderates air the ground are not greatly different. 30 . with continued when the inversion is destroyed. beneath an inversion may change abruptly Finally. temperatures within the vegetative layer for several The crowns of trees in a heavy forest form a reasons. second. leaf surfaces exchange heat with gradually between this level and the ground. and third. the temperature decreases fairly rapidly with height. such as low brush. where the principal radiation takes than air beneath the crowns. although temperatures radiation to penetrate to the ground than will a near dense cover. air through a deeper. it intercepts both incoming and nearly continuous cover and the canopy thus outgoing radiation and therefore has a marked becomes. the inversion layer Is com- valley bottom up the slopes may actually cause the pletely dissipated. the air contact surface. because the air circulation around these surfaces is The maximum daytime temperatures and minimum better. green highest daytime temperatures are found near the foliage does not warm up as much as ground or dry crown top. Maximum air temperatures near the crowns may be These effects result in less pronounced 180 to 200 warmer than air temperature near the temperature changes with height above the ground. The effect on ground temperature. First. and the temperature will decrease litter. This is because the the vegetation. place.upslope winds begin. Air in the crown region had higher daytime temperatures near the tops of the crowns. the temperatures of the tree crown surfaces in contact leaves form a nearly continuous upper surface. less restricted boundary layer. The transport of air from the heating and mixing. The behavior of a fire burning inversion top to lower over the middle of the valley. With plants. EFFECTS OF FORESTS ON TEMPERATURE NEAR THE GROUND In all situations. The degree of partial ground Crowns of trees in a heavy forest become the effective air contact Nighttime temperatures in a dense timber stand tend to be lowest surface.

" will range between that found over bare ground and Night temperatures in dense timber stands that under a closed canopy. the weather with successive influxes of cold air. the same pattern difference in solar heating through the year. and seasonal variation of temperatures near the surface thus a reduction in the monthly or seasonal is least in equatorial regions. determines. and the moderate the seasonal temperature cycle because general circulation patterns. tend to be lowest near the top of the crown where Air temperatures at the standard 4 1/2-foot the principal radiation takes place. shading provided by less dense vegetation accelerate the rate of burning of surface fires. the air temperature distribution be. large water bodies. maximum of 24 hours of sunshine and winter days The normal daily pattern at an inland location with a maximum level terrain consists of a daily temperature 31 . Openings in a timber stand tend to act as chimneys under conditions of strong daytime homing and light winds. due to the angle at which the general circulation pattern may produce cloudy sun's rays strike the earth. Sparse timber or timber stand may become warm air pockets during other vegetation will merely decrease the strength the day. as we have seen. In one area. This may produce opposite effects. seasonal variation increases with latitude to both The diurnal temperature variation depends polar regions. where summer days have a upon all of the factors we have discussed so far. In another area. chimneys and may SEASONAL AND DIURNAL VARIATIONS IN AIR TEMPERATURE Seasonal temperature patterns are affected of 24 hours of darkness. which are close enough to be influenced by these tween the ground surface and the canopy top. the is. where there is little temperature. Openings in a moderate to dense by radiation to the cooling crowns. The latitude effect of their great heat capacity. Some cool air height within the forest in the afternoon are likely to from the crowns sinks down to the ground surface. It "chimneys. Large water bodies principally by latitude. In general. be 5° to 8° cooler than the temperatures in nearby and there is some additional cooling at the surface cleared areas. These openings often act as natural of the inversion just above the ground surface.

a cool. The reason for this effects. Differences in temperature create differences in air density and With the understanding of temperature atmospheric pressure and therefore cause vertical variations that we now have. Snow surfaces are an important passage of a front. A and therefore the diurnal temperature range and change in the vertical height of the boundary layer the time of maxima and minima. transport of heat. Aspect affects the solar radiation a warm. temperature patterns along the slopes. most of which are related to the atmospheric moisture is fundamental. less along the slopes (in the thermal belt) and at marine air mass is usually found at low levels. has moved into the area. those surfaces that become warmest during the day also become coldest at night. rather than continental. Temperature is a basic weather element that particularly evaporation and condensation. and Diurnal changes in temperature take place the air temperature above them also has a high within the limitations of air-mass temperature. The influence of temperature on various reasons. for example. high humidity. dry air mass is usually found above. In general. influences other weather elements. one finds a greater throughout the night when a warm air mass moves diurnal variation in temperature in the valleys. continue to fall throughout the day when a very cold air mass moves in rapidly. moisture. The daily range. not only in heating or cooling of the earth’s surface. we are ready to and horizontal air movement. and industrial varies considerably in both time and space and for contaminants. is reflected in the temperature pattern. discussed in chapter 1. strong winds. moisture transport. Maxima will occur between these two air masses will appear in the earlier. Concave areas will have a larger daily lag in maximum and minimum temperature was range than convex areas. Even minor temperature in mid afternoon and the lowest shape characteristics of topography have their temperature just after sunrise. and hig6r elevations. Large water bodies tend to moderate the daily Various factors alter this pattern. and in. and atmospheric . with the highest on east slopes than on west slopes. temperature variation just as they moderate the seasonal variation. This diurnal temperature range decreases with altitude above the surface. and rise when a warm air atmospheric instability lower the maximum mass moves in. Temperatures drop when a Clouds. but in changes of state. Through sir consider atmospheric moisture-humidity-in some movement. climate. haze. Along the west coast during the summer. is completely obscured. near the surface. A primary factor is the character of the surface. or may continue to rise In mountainous terrain.range of 20-30°F. SUMMARY In this chapter we have sent that temperature pollutants such as smoke. In some cases the diurnal pattern temperature and raise the minimum temperature. and cold air mass moves in. evidence that another air mass exception. The temperature may thereby reducing the daily temperature range. Coastal areas have a marine. temperature differences influence the detail.

Chapter 3


Atmospheric moisture is a key element in fire
weather. It has direct effects on the flammability of
forest fuels, and, by its relationship to other weather
factors, it has indirect effects on other aspects of
fire behavior. There is a continuous exchange of
water vapor between the atmosphere and dead
wildland fuels. Dry fuels absorb moisture from a
humid atmosphere and give up their moisture to dry
air. During very dry periods, low humidity may also
affect the moisture content of green fuels. When
atmospheric moisture condenses and falls as
precipitation, it increases the moisture content of
dead fuels, and, by replenishing soil moisture, it
provides for the growth of green vegetation.

We have already seen that moisture influences all
surface temperatures, including surface fuel
temperatures, by controlling radiation in its vapor
state and by reflecting and radiating when it is
condensed into clouds. The heat energy released
in condensation provides the energy for
thunderstorms and the violent winds associated
with them. Moisture is also necessary for the
development of lightning, which in many
mountainous areas is a dreaded cause of wildfire.


Water is always present in the lower atmos- universally influences the weather. In a later
phere in one or more of its three states. It may exist chapter we will consider atmospheric processes
as a gas (invisible water vapor), as a liquid (rain, involving water that produce clouds and precip-
drizzle, dew, or cloud droplets), and as a solid itation. In the present chapter we will be concerned
(snow, hall, sleet, frost, or ice crystals). primarily with water vapor in the atmosphere - how
In its three states and in its changes from one it gets there, how it is measured, described, and
state to another, water continually and distributed, and how it varies in time and space.


Moisture as vapor acts the same as any other
gas. It mixes with other gases in the air, and yet liquid, freezing into ice, melting into liquid water,
maintains its own identity and characteristics. It is the evaporating into gaseous water vapor, and
raw material in condensation. It stores immense condensing back to liquid. These changes are all
quantities of energy gained in evaporation; this related to temperature, the gage of molecular activity
energy is later released in condensation. Much of the in any substance. At about -460°F. (absolute zero)
energy for thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the molecules of all substances are motionless. As
other strong winds comes from the heat released the temperature rises, they move around at increasing
when water vapor condenses. The availability of speeds. Water molecules move slowly at subfreezing
water vapor for precipitation largely determines the temperatures, more rapidly at melting temperature,
ability of a region to grow vegetation, which later and still more rapidly through the boiling stage.
becomes the fuel for wildland fires. However, at any given temperature, individual
molecules, whether solid, liquid, or gas, do not have
Moisture in the atmosphere is continually the same speeds or direction of travel. Collisions that
changing its physical state condensing into change their speeds and directions occur

The internal pressure causing water vapor to escape from ice or liquid water varies greatly with the surface temperature; it is very small at
cold temperatures and increases rapidly in liquid water through the boiling stage.

Some molecules momentarily acquire a very
high speed from the impacts of other molecules. If
this collision occurs in liquid water near the surface,
and the high speed is in an outward direction, the
molecules may escape into the air. This is
evaporation, the process by which a liquid water
molecule becomes a water-vapor molecule. Since
molecules with the highest energy content escape,
leaving behind in the liquid those with a lower
energy content, the average level of energy of this
liquid is decreased. The decrease in energy level
results in a decrease in temperature of the liquid.
Therefore, evaporation is a cooling process. Each
molecule escaping into the air by a change of state
takes with it nearly 1,000 times the energy needed
to raise the temperature of a water molecule 1°F.
The pressure at the water-air boundary
resulting from molecular motion in the direction of
escape from the liquid is called the vapor pressure
of water. This pressure varies only with the
temperature of the water and determines

Evaporation occurs when an excess of water molecules leaves a
water surface, and condensation occurs when an excess of
molecular arms the liquid water. In an equilibrium condition, there
is no net exchange in either direction, and the atmosphere is

the rate at which water molecules escape to the air
and become vapor molecules. The water-vapor
molecules, which escape to the air, displace air
molecules and contribute their proportionate share
to the total atmospheric pressure. This portion is
called the partial pressure due to water vapor, or for
simplicity, the vapor pressure.
Vapor pressure depends on the actual water
vapor in the air, and it may vary from near zero in
cold, dry air to about 2 inches of mercury in warm,
moist air. High values can occur only in the warm,
lower layers of the troposphere. The pressure
produced by the vapor causes some water-vapor
The partial pressure due to water vapor may vary from near zero
in cold, dry air to about 2 inches of mercury in warm, moist air.
molecules to re-enter water sur-

faces by condensation. The same amount of heat atmosphere, the saturation vapor pressure just about
energy that was needed for evaporation is liberated doubles for each 20°F. increase in temperature. With
to warm the condensation surface. this understanding of evaporation, condensation, and
At the water-air boundary, molecules are vapor pressure, we can now define several terms
exchanged in both directions continuously, but the used to indicate the amount of moisture in the
exchange is usually greater in one direction or the atmosphere.
other. Evaporation occurs when more molecules Table 1. – Saturation water vapor pressure
leave the water surface than enter it, and
condensation occurs when the opposite takes Temperature, Pressure,
place. Actually, both condensation and evaporation °F. inches of mercury
occur at the same time. As noted earlier, a similar -40 0.006
exchange of molecules takes place between water -30 .010
vapor and ice in the process of sublimation. The -20 .017
-10 .028
vapor pressure of ice is somewhat less than that of
0 .045 supercooled water
water at the same temperature. Hence, at low
10 .071
temperatures sublimation on ice is accomplished 20 .110
more readily than condensation on a water surface. 30 .166
When the vapor pressure in the atmosphere is ------------------------------------------------------------------------
in equilibrium with the vapor pressure of a water or 40 .248
ice surface, there is no net exchange of water 50 .362
molecules in either direction, and the atmosphere is 60 .522
said to be saturated. A saturated volume of air 70 .739
contains all the vapor that it can hold. The vapor 80 1.032
pressure at saturation is called the saturation 90 1.422
vapor pressure. The saturation vapor pressure 100 1.933
varies with the temperature of the air and is ------------------------------------------------------------------------
identical to the vapor pressure of water at that 212 29.92 boiling water
temperature. The higher the temperature, the more (sea level)
water vapor a volume of air can hold, and the The air near the surface is usually not saturated;
higher the saturation vapor pressure. Conversely, therefore, the actual vapor pressure is usually less
the lower the temperature, the lower the saturation than the saturation vapor pressure. The actual vapor
vapor pressure. Table 1 illustrates how the pressure can be raised to saturation vapor pressure
saturation vapor pressure varies with temperature. by evaporating more moisture into the air, or, since
saturation vapor pressure varies with temperature, the
In the common range of temperatures in the lower
air can be cooled until the saturation vapor pressure
is equal to the actual vapor pressure. Evaporation
alone does not ordinarily saturate the air except very
close to the evaporating surface. Normal circulation
usually carries evaporated moisture away from the
evaporating surface.

Dew Point

Saturation is usually reached by the air being
cooled until its saturation vapor pressure equals the
actual vapor pressure. The temperature of the air at
that point is called the dew-point temperature, or
simply, the dew point. Further cooling causes some
The saturation absolute humidity and saturation vapor pressure of the vapor to condense into liquid droplets that form
both vary with the temperature. The higher the temperature, the clouds, fog, or dew. Cooling near the surface
more water vapor a volume of air can hold.
normally results from contact with cool ground or
36 water. Cooling to the dew point may also occur by
lifting moist air to higher altitudes; it is thus cooled
adiabatically. For example,

and 24 percent relative humidity.844 110 2. The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.110 .409 50 . that is.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some. If the air is cooled below its dew point. the dew point is the same as the the temperature. It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure. It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air.827 70 . each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air.248 rounded off. dew point.198 30 . we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point.422 2. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1. increasing their flammability and the fire danger.010 .149 80 1. the vapor pressure. A direct relationship exists pressure.071 . and a instead of dew point in the first column. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure.031 -10 .011 -30 . Sat. three measures of atmospheric moisture. and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure. that is.032 by 0.017 .248 .081 10 .585 60 . Relative Humidity condensation occurs because the amount of water vapor in the air exceeds the maximum amount that Saturation of surface air is a condition of can be contained at the lower temperature.) cubic feet) -40 0.754 37 .362 .) (Inches of Hg.597 3. in percent. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity.Dew point.166 . fuels. at constant times 100.522 .279 40 . which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. Using table 2. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air.019 -20 . Because of vapor pressure of 0. to 500. 100 1.006 0. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1. Therefore. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.362 inches of mercury.000 cubic feet.032 1. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air. Under favorable fire weather.739 1. . absolute humidity because.032 inches of mercury. temperature. and pressure is 0. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure. Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F.125 20 .consider air with a temperature of 80°F. vapor pressure. these relationships. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.028 . conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger. The actual vapor Table 2. saturation.051 0 . temperature must be kept in mind. and the pressure.045 .933 2. Therefore. the weight per volume.24.

obtain the relative humidity. the wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures are the same. The wet-bulb temperature is the steady value reached during a period of brisk ventilation of the thermometer bulbs. Entering table 4 (which important. the humidity would increase from 24 percent to 100 percent and the air would be saturated. Thus. absolute humidity. They have been considered in the dry-bulb reading on the left and the wet-bulb construction of the tables or slide rules. MEASURING HUMIDITY The most widely used device for accurately measuring atmospheric moisture near the surface is the psychrometer. the relative humidity may change considerably with no addition of mois- ture-just by cooling alone. to 40°. Either relative humidity or dew One table is entered with this value and the point may be obtained directly from wet-bulb and dry-bulb reading to obtain the dew point. which psychrometric tables for different pressures Other tables in common use require that the may be used. we find at the intersection that labeled with the correct pressure must be used. If the air is saturated. The amount that the evaporating surface will cool is determined by the difference between the vapor pressure and the saturation vapor pressure. As noted earlier. . and relative humidity may be Wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures are obtained with a psychrometer. with no other change.dew point for this vapor pressure is 40°. From the wet. the relative humidity is 55 percent (black figure) and Table 3 gives the ranges of land elevations for the dew point is 58°F.500 feet above sea level. types of tables. another dry-bulb readings. The daily pressure changes as shown by and the wet-bulb temperature was 64° at a station the barometer are not large enough to be 1. these moisture relations vary with changes in pressure. wet-bulb depression (the dry-bulb temperature Table 4 is a sample of one of the simplest minus the wet-bulb temperature) be computed first. Dew point. The absolute humidity in table 2 could be used in a similar manner. At that tem- perature the actual vapor pressure would equal the saturation vapor pressure. We now know that if the air was cooled from 80°F. (red figure). the other measures the temperature of evaporating water contained in a muslin wicking surrounding the thermometer bulb. computed values of dew-point temperature. suppose the air table is entered with the same two readings to temperature (dry-bulb) was 75°F. As an example. The first reading is commonly referred to as the dry-bulb temperature and the second as the wet-bulb temperature. and other measures read from tables or slide rules. relative humidity. The ones reading at the top.and dry-bulb measurements. It consists of two identical mercurial thermometers. but those due to differences in elevation is the table for 29 inches of mercury) with the are significant. of air moisture may be obtained from these readings. One thermometer is used for measuring the air temperature.

however. and to whirl the One instrument of this type that records a instrument rapidly for a sufficient time to get the continuous trace of relative humidity is called a true (lowest) wet-bulb temperature. will indicate dry. well-ventilated shady spot. Some from three sources: Evaporation from any moist water vapor results from combustion. transpiration adds little moisture to the atmosphere. Other devices. temperature.and we-bulb readings that agree well Other instruments used to measure relative with those obtained in the shelter. and not to fire-weather stations is the hygrothermograph. 0-500 0-300 30 501-1900 301-1700 29 Standard surface measurements of relative 1901-3900 1701-3600 27 humidity. like those of temperature. A 6101-8500 5701-7900 23 properly operated sting psychrometer. break the thermometer by striking any object while which records both relative humidity and whirling the psychrometer. A more common form in use at taken not to allow the wicking to dry out. Care must be hygrograph.) humidity. The only humidity contain fibers of various materials that necessary precautions are to select a swell or shrink with changing relative humidity. is also important. Because the surface or body of water. evaporation oceans cover more than three-fourths of Although the oceans are the principal source of atmospheric moisture. such SOURCES OF ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE Water vapor in the air comes almost entirely from soil. – Psychrometric tables for different Elevations as those commonly used for upper-air soundings. Table 3. are made in an 3901-6100 3601-5700 25 instrument shelter 4 1/2 feet above the ground. . Elevation above sea level Psychrometric employ moisture-sensitive elements that change in (Except Alaska) (Alaska) table electrical or chemical characteristics with changing (Feet) (Inches of hg. transpiration from plant. But in and areas. and transpiration from plants.

is shown in red. – Relative humidity and dew-point table for use at elevations between 501 and 1900 feet above sea level. .Table 4. Relative humidity in percent is shown in black: dew point in °F.

Transpiration from living plants does not vary as evaporation from dead plant material. and even within basically related to their regions of origin. important locally. relatively dry. After a of moisture transpired depends greatly on the surface has dried to the point where free water is growth activity. such as many areas in the arid West. but an internal regulating process tends to limit the water-loss rate on Wind encourages evaporation by blowing away stagnated layers excessively hot and dry days to the plant's of moist air and by mixing moist air with drier air aloft. The rate of evaporation increases with increases in the pressure difference. The amount layers and replacing them with drier air. soil. This growth activity. and dead plant material will be greater than from cold surfaces. wind may actually vegetation. help reverse the process by cooling the surfaces both transpiration and evaporation may be almost and thus lowering the vapor pressure of moisture negligible toward the end of the dry season. The vapor pressure at the evaporating surface varies with the temperature of that surface. water vapor Plants have large surfaces for transpiration. Wind encourages to eight times as much moisture to the atmosphere evaporation by blowing away these stagnated as can an equal area of bare ground. usually no longer exposed to the air. Air an air mass there will be continuing variations in masses originating in continental areas are time and space. even though the from an area of dense vegetation can contribute up surrounding air is relatively dry. further for each square yard of ground area. In areas of deficient rainfall and sparse comparatively dry soil or wood. the rate at which moisture is given up to the air varies with the difference between the vapor pressure at the evaporating surface and the atmospheric vapor pressure. concentrates near the evaporating surface. evaporation from the surfaces of warm water bodies. Evaporation will continue as long as the vapor pressure at the evaporating surface is greater than the atmospheric vapor pressure. In fact.the earth's surface. and dead plant material. assuming that the atmospheric vapor pressure is the same. may also be common at timberline and at latitudes in the Far North. for surfaces like supply. Living plants will usually transpire at their highest rates during warm weather. If this occasionally they have as much as 40 square yards concentration approaches saturation. but land sources can also be chapter on fuel moisture (chapter 11). particular current needs. This which these surfaces contain. the effect of wind on varies with the season and with the ground water evaporation decreases. Therefore. they are the most important transpiration from living plants more fully in the moisture source. We will discuss evaporation from dead plant material and VARIATIONS IN ABSOLUTE HUMIDITY The actual amount of moisture in the air will The moisture contents of air masses are vary from one air rental to another. In still air during evaporation. In evaporation from water bodies. Transpiration evaporation will virtually halt. warm soil. in turn. Those coming from the Atlantic 41 .

we find that the vertical variation of absolute humidity with height will change during each 24-hour period as conditions favoring evaporation alternate with conditions favoring condensation. . condensed moisture from higher levels in the from warm surfaces. like the temperature. As these maritime air masses invade the continent. and precipitation add or subtract moisture. it expands. moisture is added to the atmosphere from the surface and is carried upward by convection and upslope and up valley winds. the precipitation process removes the absolute humidity. usually decreases with height. the capacity for air to hold moisture decreases upward. We will consider subsidence in more detail in the next chapter. condensation. or is mixed downward. Thus. If we consider only a very shallow layer of air near the surface. since temperature usually decreases upward. becomes less and less. moisture usually is added to the air by evaporation Schematic representation of surface absolute humidity compared to that at shelter height. and those from the Pacific are moist or moderately moist. gradual changes take place as evaporation. and more moisture during the day. Finally. Air near the surface is likely to contain 42 less moisture than air at shelter height during the night. the absolute humidity. as well as the air. As any air mass traverses areas different from its source region. the absolute humidity atmosphere and deposits it at the surface. Third. the water vapor. This dry air originates near the top of the troposphere and slowly sinks to lower levels. Through a deep layer within an air mass. decreases upward. If it reaches the ground. summer thunderstorm activity over large parts of the West. transpiration. and the moisture in a given volume. it may produce acutely low humidity near the surface and an abrupt increase in fire danger. There are several reasons for this distribution. horizontal flow at intermediate levels aloft brings in thus. expands proportionately so that the moisture in any given volume becomes less and less. the absolute humidity decreases as the air is lifted. moisture is usually taken from the air The normal pattern of decrease of moisture near the surface by condensation on cold surfaces with altitude may be altered occasionally when and absorption by cold soil and other substances.or the Gulf of Mexico are moist. when air is lifted. Such flow is responsible for much of the through a very shallow layer. Second. land stations will observe abrupt rises in absolute humidity. Extremely low absolute humidity is found in subsiding air aloft. First. As moist air rises. During clear days. the absolute humidity may increase upward moist air. therefore. At night.

relative humidity near the ground is usually lower than at shelter height daybreak. Relative humidity is much Above the lowest layers. significant amounts from one hour to the next and from place to place. Therefore. Relative humidity is most important as a fire-weather factor in the layer near the ground. closer per 1. per 1.000 about relative humidity variations. both the temperature and absolute A subsiding layer of air in the troposphere humidity usually decrease with height. particularly with clear skies. Near the ground. for example.000 feet. tive humidity increases until saturation is reached. A typical fair-weather pattern of relative humidity. It much of the lower troposphere.000 feet. 43 .5°F. The marine air below is greater than that of the decrease in absolute has low temperatures and high humidities. is nearly a mirror image of the temperature Schematic representation of surface relative humidity compared pattern. the effect adiabatically heated subsiding air mass above has of the decrease in absolute humidity may higher temperatures and lower humidities. time of day. temperature decreases 5. Over a moist surface. particularly feet. This overbalance that of temperature decrease. slope. During the day near the surface. at the time of during the day. and higher at night. Which effect is dominant depends upon decrease upward through the temperature in- the dryness of the surface. the marine inversion is present. the change of temperature with height Relative humidity is much more variable than usually predominates. and the pronounced change in temperature and humidity is relative humidity in the surface layer will decrease evident along the slopes of coastal mountains when with height.5°F. the relative humidity more variable because it depends not only on generally increases with height in the day through absolute humidity but also on air temperature. These two warms by the adiabatic process and forms a variables have opposite effects on the relative subsidence inversion. we will consider variations at that level and infer from our knowledge of surface temperatures what the conditions are near the surface around forest fuels. The usually increases with height over normal surfaces marine inversion along the west coast. however. season. and vegetation all cause important variations in relative humidity. and the relative humidity will absolute humidity. Maximum humidity generally occurs about to that at shelter height. as shown on a hygrothermograph ex- posed in a shelter at a valley station or one in flat terrain. the with temperature. The relative humidity will humidity. As air is lifted. elevation. the dew point and the temperature vertical variations within short distances above the become 4. and it is often not possible to make general statements the dew point decreases at about 1°F. air moisture content. Since hourly and daily changes of relative humidity are normally measured in a standard instrument shelter. Due to the effect of temperature. where it influences both fuels and fire behavior. DIURNAL AND SEASONAL CHANGES IN RELATIVE HUMIDITY At night. clouds. The relative humidity version at the base of the subsiding layer. per 1. because the effect of the decrease in temperature is a subsidence inversion. It often changes rapidly and in decrease with height through the lowest layers. Convection alone varies directly with moisture content and inversely would account for this increase. and the rela- ground. aspect. Because of these relationships. and the humidity.

often boosts night humidities to or and transpiration from vegetation is at its peak. through the summer and early fall. In the combination with ample moisture in the soil and Great Lakes region. and the fire weather is further intensified. reflecting mostly differences in temperatures. seasonal increases in relative humidity skies are clear. After sunrise. In season when the sun is nearly overhead and night some areas. the cumulative that begin following a moist spring and continue drying of soil and vegetation is not so consistent. minimum temperature. with a greater Variations in the humidity traces within an air mass reduction in night humidities. near 100 percent. gradually picks up or loses moisture. dry out and solar heating diminishes as the sun The daily range of humidity is usually greatest tracks farther south. time of maximum temperature. Daytime humidities become when the daily range of temperature is greatest. In areas that have separate spring and fall fire Seasonal changes in relative humidity patterns seasons. Intensive daytime surface daytime relative humidities do not reach as low heating and convective transport values 44 . reduced. where the many vegetation to contribute moisture to the small lakes become quite warm during the summer atmosphere. particularly. a seasonal except during unusual drought. there may be noticeable progression but do not greatly change the overall cumulative differences in humidity as the air mass seasonal pattern. the daily range is from one day to the next are usually small. It rises more As the season progresses. Because periodic change is particularly noticeable. but. Typical temperature and relative humidity traces for a low-level station are nearly mirror images of each other. In western fire-weather seasons generally not so striking. soil and vegetation gradually from late afternoon through the night. But Occasional summer rains may interrupt this over several days. humidity of moisture upward combine to drop the relative drops rapidly and reaches a minimum at about the humidity to low levels in the afternoon. Also. the temperature ranges are greatest early in the fire humidity changes tend to be somewhat variable. Strong nighttime cooling. in decrease fire danger during the summer. the daily temperature extremes are are also apparent. even lower late in the season. Daily rains generally occur during the seasons.

EFFECTS OF TERRAIN. ²Calculated. When wind exact. the humidity can be estimated from percent relative humidity-when the humidity at psychrometric readings at the standard height and shelter height may be considerably below the a dry-bulb temperature reading at the surface. In the daytime particularly. speeds reach about 8 miles per hour. clear skies. temperature of 140°F. the humidity measured at a well-exposed station may be quite representative of a fairly large area. humidities are likely to be higher near the ground than in the It is impractical to measure humidity close to shelter because of radiative cooling of the surface. relative humidity usually increases upward along slopes. In relatively flat to rolling terrain. and humidities vary more than over gentle terrain. circulation and mixing are usually sufficient to smooth out local effects over relatively short distances. using a dry-bulb instrument shelter. With similar exposure at night. and a dew point of 56°F. There will be local exceptions along streams. the effects of elevation and aspect become important. particularly in unshaded areas 1 inch ¹140 ³56 ³8 where soil and surface fuels exposed to the sun are ¹Observed. but the differences do not During daytime. the ground with field instruments. the increased mixing diminishes the difference between surface Consider the following example. ³Estimated heated intensely. irrigated fields. but because it is much warmer. an inversion is present. and open exposure. At night. We saturation level. if disappear. Although we know that this may not be air. in shaded woods. This very warm air may have a dew point The 8-percent relative was obtained from a nearly the same or slightly higher than the air in the complete set of tables. depending greatly on the topography. WIND. it has a much lower relative humidity.indicating 100 tables. using table 4. dew will form on the surface . Low elevations warm up and dry out earlier in the spring than do high elevations. Also. AND AIR MASS CHANGES Humidity may vary considerably from one spot to another. The relative humidity that affects fuels on the Measurement Dry-bulb Wet-bulb point percent forest floor is of ten quite different from that in the 4 ½ feet ¹80 ¹65 ²56 ²45 instrument the same air mass types as they do in spring and fall. largely because of the temperature decreases. In mountainous topography. and shelter-height humidities. South slopes also are more advanced seasonally than north slopes. it will give a reasonable estimation. then changes little or increases slightly with elevation. VEGETATION. CLOUDS. or in barren areas. relative humidity decreases up the slope to the top of the inversion. the humidity differences between the two levels tend to disappear because the principal radiating surface is above both levels. . under heavy for a pressure of 29 inches: cloud cover or shade. but with the aid of Often. Relative Height of Dew humidity. must assume that the clew point is the same at These conditions are typical for relatively still both levels. and warm the air surrounding them. cumulative drying tends to even out these differences since stored moisture in the surface is depleted. As the season progresses.

Patches of slopes become slight. fog or dew forms. The humidity will be higher on cloudy days and lower on cloudy nights. we should be cautious of generali- the bottom. As the night progresses. Clouds strongly affect heating and cooling and therefore influence the relative humidity. decrease from 100 percent at the foot of the slope This anomaly results from slope winds carrying to a minimum value at the top of the temperature moisture upward from the moist marine air layer inversion-the thermal belt. which was discussed in during the day. however. so continue to burn aggressively through the night as generalizations are difficult to make. Precipitation in any form raises relative humidities by cooling the air and by supplying moisture for evaporation into the air. diurnal ranges of relative humidity elevations. The decrease with height of both tem. and lower at night. the difference in negligible. in the summer in the Pacific cooling occurs. up the slope above the inversion. and by morning. because of often quiet down considerably at night when heating of the air next to the slopes. during the day. Thus. Winds also reduce place-to-place the good air mixing at these more exposed sites. Thus. south slopes have lower relative humidities than canopy. the difference between north are less during windy periods than during calm and south slopes becomes negligible because of periods. the tem. We mentioned earlier that daytime tem- peratures normally decrease with altitude in the In most mountainous country. they also have surrounding air and evens out temperature somewhat lower day relative humidities than north extremes by moving air away from hot and cold slopes throughout the summer. humidity is normally higher than outside north slopes. The lower slopes may burn better during the day. humidity differences on north and south contents and different temperatures. Under a closed During the day. perature change with height is usually reversed. if the air becomes coast ranges. additional zations. they pattern is complicated. differences by mixing air of different moisture At night. while fires on humidities at higher elevations on slopes. Moist air that is not carried away chapter 2 . and wind speed is greater. Relative humidity may on ridge tops during the day than during the night. clouds reduce the daily range considerably. fires may stratification of moisture into layers. Vegetation moderates surface temperatures and contributes to air moisture through transpiration and evaporation-both factors that affect local relative humidity. though. the transport of humidity increases. Just as south slopes dry out faster because of Wind mixes evaporating water vapor with their higher day temperatures. The differences in humidity between forest stands and open areas generally vary with the density of the crown canopy. because of good air mixing. But at higher elevations. higher humidities are usually found saturated. the daily range free air. The 46 . Cold air flowing down the slopes accumulates at Again. When nighttime cooling begins. At upper surfaces. moisture with upslope winds. A continuous forest canopy has the added effect of decreasing surface wind speeds and the mixing that takes place with air movement. and the frequent particularly in and above the thermal belt. but at upper elevations. For example. humidities remain low. of relative humidity is greatest in valley bottoms and perature and dew point produces higher relative least at higher elevations.and then may increase slightly farther aloft settles back down at night. Thus. temperatures stay higher. fog on a calm night indicate poor ventilation.

however. Relative humidity is normally higher under a closed canopy than in the open during the day. If the airflow is restricted. The daytime humidities in larger clearings are much like those in open country. and surface air is drawn into them from the surrounding forest.Temperature and relative humidity traces at mountain stations are often less closely related ban at valley stations. these openings serve as chimneys for convective airflow. As mentioned in the previous chapter. between forest stands and forest openings. usually somewhat higher than in the woods. Openings of up to about 20 yards in diameter do not have daytime relative humidities much different from under the canopy-except at the heated ground surface. Deciduous forests have only slight effects on Overcast skies limit both heating and cooling. these may range from 5 to 20 percent lower in the clearing than within a well-shaded forest. Night humidities are generally similar to those at exposed sites. the stagnation coupled with strong radiation can cause locally high humidities. In the afternoon. 47 . and lower at night. and humidities will be correspondingly lower. temperatures may rise slightly above those at exposed stations. Two factors lessen the humidity difference nounced when there is a green understory. higher daytime humidities are even more pro. and humidity during their leafless period. drought conditions decrease the amount of moisture available for evaporation and tran- spiration. At night in small openings. Changes in absolute humidity are more important at mountain stations.

Abrupt humidity the inversion layer is actually the boundary drops of up to 70 percent in the early evening have between two very different air masses. When a front passes. the distributions of temperature and We have also seen that absolute humidity moisture aloft can critically influence the behavior of varies in space and time for several reasons. wildland fire in other ways. will depend greatly on the air-mass inversion is usually higher in the day and lower at temperature. and a different air mass arrives. subsiding actually have a higher relative humidity if its air at night. dry air mass adjacent mountains. moist one. and The temperature effect frequently overrides the through transpiration from vegetation. the cool. when a lower marine then suddenly drop to low values as dry air from layer is topped by a warm. very abnormal relative humidity expected. especially after prolonged dry spells. while the in the layer of air near the ground are important in relative humidity indicates the degree of saturation fire weather because of their influence on fuel at a given temperature. dry air mass may actually have a higher relative humidity over continents. some areas will be in the replacing a warm. moisture. We have seen that change in the same manner. moist air mass. therefore. The relative humidity may begin to rise temperature is appreciably lower. the however. than a warm. been observed. patterns are found. moist one. because relative moisture escapes into the atmosphere through humidity is very dependent upon air temperature. during the late afternoon and early evening and Along the west coast. or vice versa. dry air mass replacing a night. evaporation from water bodies and soil. along the coastal lowlands. however. the amount of moisture in the air is one of the air-mass characteristics. In these inland areas. a change in absolute humidity can be coast ranges. may cause a large reverse is usually true. The first of these however. A cool. A warm. During dry weather. Inland. relative humidity does not necessarily influences will be seen in the next chapter when we consider atmospheric stability. The dew-point temperature and the absolute humidity While temperature and moisture distributions represent the actual moisture in the air. Open forest stands have humidity charac- teristics somewhere between those of exposed sites and closed stands. Along the slopes of the change in relative humidity. Atmospheric absolute humidity effect. Air masses originating over water bodies will have higher moisture contents than those originating A cool. relative humidity humidity is usually measured with a psychrometer usually varies inversely with temperature. and can be described in several ways. however. As we will see later in the chapter on air masses and fronts. subsiding air mass. where the inversion intersects the SUMMARY In this chapter we have considered atmos- pheric moisture in some detail. The change in relative humidity. aloft moves down the slopes. 48 . This discussion of relative humidity variations has so far considered changes only within an air mass. dry. may marine air during the day and in the dry. the differences in relative humidity between forested and open lands become progressively less. depending on crown density.

are vertical motions that influence wildfire in many ways. Atmospheric stability may either encourage or suppress vertical air motion. but equally important. The heat of fire itself generates vertical motion. but the convective circulation thus established is affected directly by the stability of the air. in many indirect ways. If this reaches the surface. Chapter 4 ATMOSPHERIC STABILITY Wildfires are greatly affected by atmospheric motion and the properties of the atmosphere that affect its motion. Their lightning may set wildfires. going wildfires tend to burn briskly. as experienced in everyday living. and their distinctive winds can have adverse effects on fire behavior. often as briskly at night as during the day. Subsidence occurs in larger scale vertical circulation as air from high-pressure areas replaces that carried aloft in adjacent low-pressure systems. From these few examples. Most commonly considered in evaluating fire danger are surface winds with their attendant temperatures and humidities. atmospheric stability will affect fire behavior. In turn. the indraft into the fire at low levels is affected. winds tend to be turbulent and gusty when the atmosphere is unstable. and that a general understanding of stability and its effects is necessary to the successful interpretation of fire-behavior phenomena. and this type of airflow causes fires to behave erratically. This often brings very dry air from high altitudes to low levels. For example. and this has a marked effect on fire intensity. . Thunderstorms with strong updrafts and downdrafts develop when the atmosphere is unstable and contains sufficient moisture. Less obvious. we can see that atmospheric stability is closely related to fire behavior. at least near the surface. Also.

5°F. and based on the parcel method of analysis (3) initial dew point of the parcel. as we will see later. does not exchange mass or heat saturation. called the moist-adiabatic Three characteristics of the sounding then rate. 50 . per 1. In the absence of saturation. A lapse rate greater than dry-adiabatic favors vertical motion and is unstable. however. per 1. Under this particular condition. A temperature lapse rate less than the dryadiabatic rate of 5. an atmospheric layer is neutrally stable if its lapse rate is the same as the dry-adiabatic rate. pressures encountered as it moves upward. These are: as the resistance of the atmosphere to vertical (1) The temperature lapse rate through the layer. This rate averages about 3°F.000 feet. and the rate of cooling with The sounding applies to an atmosphere at rest. This definition and its explanation were (2) temperature of the parcel at its initial level. because vertical motion is damped. Rising saturated air lifting under these conditions is adiabatic lifting. the same stability terms apply. cools at a lesser rate. appropriate to a vertical temperature and moisture Adiabatically lifted air expands in the lower sounding through the troposphere. (2) increase in altitude depends on whether or not the a small parcel of air in the sampled atmosphere. any existing vertical motion is neither damped nor accelerated. across its boundary.000 feet of rise.5°F. the comparison of atmospheric lapse rate is made with the moist-adiabatic rate appropriate to the temperature encountered. usually found over heated surfaces. As long as the air remains unsaturated.000 feet for an unsaturated parcel is considered stable. In this case. motion. STABILITY DETERMINATIONS The degree of stability or instability of an atmospheric layer is determined by comparing its temperature lapse rate. We learned that 5. Layers of different lapse rates of temperature may occur in a single sounding. and on through inversions of temperature (very stable). In a saturated layer with considerable convective motion. temperature varies through the layer and whether or not air in the layer it saturated. varying from superadiabatic (unstable). with the appropriate adiabatic rate. as shown by a sounding. the lapse rate tends to become Atmospheric stability of any layer is determined by the way moist-adiabatic. per 1. to dry-adiabatic (neutral). determine the stability of the atmospheric layer but. This is This method employs some assumptions: (1) a cooling process. and (3) rise of the parcel does it cools at the constant dry-adiabatic lapse rate of not set its environment in motion. if temperature reaches the dew point and consequent caused to rise. ATMOSPHERIC STABILITY Atmospheric stability was defined in chapter I in which the parcel of air is embedded. it varies considerably. In the case of a saturated parcel.

The temperature structure of the atmosphere is always complex. the parcel will accelerate in the direction of its forced motion. adiabatic processes and stability determinations for either upward or downward moving air parcels make use of the appropriate dry. Stability of Unsaturated Air We can illustrate use of the adiabatic chart to indicate these processes by plotting four hypothetical soundings on appropriate segments of a chart. it will remain at its new position. Adiabatic Chart To facilitate making stability determinations. in an unstable atmosphere. The moisture is plotted as dew-point temperature. Just as air expands and cools when it is lifted. the meteorologist plots tempeerture and moisture soundings on an adiabatic chart and compares the 51 lapse rates of various layers to the dry adiabats and moist adiabats. The basic portion of the chart is a set of gridlines of temperature and pressure (or height) on which the measured temperature and moisture structure of the atmosphere can be plotted. and in a neutrally stable atmosphere. therefore. the parcel will return to its original position when the force is removed. the lapse rates of the various layers or portions of the atmosphere can be compared to the dry-adiabatic rate and the moist-adiabatic rate. In later chapters we will consider other ways in which the adiabatic chart is used. that each of our four soundings has a lapse rate indicated dia- To determine stability. Hence. Stability determinations from soundings in the atmosphere are made to estimate the subsequent motion of an air parcel that has been raised or lowered by an external force. By referring to these adiabats. We will first cons unsaturated air to which the constant dry-adiabatic lapse rate applies. Also printed on the chart is a set of dry-adiabatic and a set of moist-adiabatic lines. the moist-adiabatic lapse rate is variable-not constant as is the dry-adiabatic rate. As mentioned above. Assume for simplicity.or moist-adiabatic lapse rates. so is it equally compressed and warmed as it is lowered. meteorologists analyzing upper-air observations use a thermodynamic diagram called an adiabatic chart as a convenient tool for making stability estimates. . The adiabatic process is reversible. In a stable atmosphere.

) to the temperature of its environment. The parcel will then be 8. the parcel warms at rate of 5. for example.000 feet. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable.5°F. Buoyancy purposes.5°F. let us consider (C) where the parcel is its point of origin when the external force is embedded in a layer that has a measured lapse removed. per 1. its temperature would be will also return to its original level. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces.000 feet. If it remains unsaturated. If the parcel is lifted.000 feet and 50°F. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level.. for example. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F.. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5.000 feet of altitude.000 feet. . the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines). the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F. inversions 39°F.grammatically by a solid black line.000 feet.000 feet. per 1. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. Note also in the environment. colder 3. would be 43°F. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5.000 feet to be 50°F. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next. Thus. Similarly. Moved downward. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. but the temperature of temperature at 3. arrows.5° rate. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F. For our the environment would be only 57°F.. its temperature will decrease 5.5°F. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. higher. At 1. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment.5°F.

000 feet at very unsaturated layer of air is mixed thoroughly. will always be in temperature equilibrium with the surrounding air. the parcel is warmer and less dense than the So far we have considered adiabatic cooling and surrounding air. that a neutrally stable lapse rate. Advection of warm air aloft or cold air its surroundings. sounding makes use of both and unstable in a relative. rather than an absolute. but we will see. the also by advection. such a a wildfire will make a neutral lapse rate become layer is neutrally stable. but we should be cautious when such a lapse rate is present. but it varies slightly with itself through mixing and overturning to a more pressure and considerably with temperature.000 feet than initiated.000 feet at very warm the surface of the earth on sunny days. neutral. lesser rate which is called the moist-adiabatic rate. it will cool at the becomes unstable. will travel upward with weather. If moved upward or sense. 39°F. hot gases rising from a fire will layer is a potentially serious condition in fire encounter little resistance. passive. but at a Lapse rates greater than the dry-adiabatic rate. therefore. At an altitude of 5. a change than the dry-adiabatic rate is conducive to vertical of state process that liberates the latent heat motion and overturning. water vapor is available for condensation and therefore more heat is released. the horizontal movement plotted temperature lapse rate is 6°F. A neutrally stable atmosphere can be made unstable In the last example (D) in unsaturated air. as mentioned earlier. dew-point temperature. more lapse rate tends toward neutral stability. while that of its surroundings would be 38°F. cooling at the dry-adiabatic parcel would similarly cool more rapidly than the lapse rate. we need to know both will then not only permit. after we unstable. In an atmosphere with a dry-adiabatic consider an unstable case. but will assist. and can develop a tall convection column. but is continually changing. per 1. The stable condition. which is greater than the dry adiabatic rate. for near the surface has the reverse effect of making example. per 1. Technically. Super-adiabatic lapse rates are variation of the rate due to temperature may range not ordinarily found in the atmosphere except near from about 2°F. Any warming of the lower portion or Let us now consider a situation in which an air cooling of the upper portion of a neutrally stable parcel is lifted and cooled until it reaches saturation layer will cause the layer to become unstable. This heat is added to the condition.. this rate is But since they are unstable.000 of colder air into the area aloft or warmer air into feet. little water vapor is available. and represents an unstable contained in the vapor. per 1. the area near the surface. On the average. and it and condensation. the air tends to adjust around 3°F. if our parcel is lifted. its cold temperatures. with the result that the temperature no longer decreases at the dry-adiabatic rate. while in colder air The term "neutral" stability sounds rather masses. per 1. When an temperatures to about 5°F. Once the lapse rate Again. rising air. A stable lapse rate that approaches the dry- downward in this layer. we should consider the terms stable. temperature. vertical the initial temperature of the parcel and its motion. Thus. Warming of the lower layers during the daytime The parcel will come to rest at its new level when by contact with the earth's surface or by heat from external forces are removed. that is. The temperature structure of Stability of Saturated Air the atmosphere is not static. we learned in chapter 2. environment and. Hence. Rising air. In warmer air masses. This stability analysis of a Thus. Moved downward. may eventually reach the dew-point surrounding air and accelerate downward. vertical currents are easily dry-adiabatic rate or 0. the parcel will change in adiabatic rate should be considered relatively temperature at the same rate as that of its unstable.5° less per 1.000 feet.the dry-adiabatic rate. and buoyancy will cause it to warming and the degree of stability of the accelerate upward as long as it remains warmer atmosphere only with respect to air that is not than the surrounding air.000 feet. For this. are called super-adiabatic. the saturated. 53 . Such changes are easily brought about. the temperature of the parcel would be the atmosphere more stable. Further cooling results in the an atmospheric layer having a lapse rate greater condensation of water vapor into clouds. ease.

temperature is lower than that but it is unstable with respect to a lifted parcel that has become saturated. assume a the parcel is forced to rise above the condensation sounding.5°F.000 feet. it will cool at the dry-adiabatic rate until of free convection.000 dry and moist adiabats. The parcel dew-point temperature become buoyant and accelerate upward. This. condensation occurs at 4. because the temperature of the saturated parcel would follow the lesser moist-- adiabatic rate. starting at the requiring an external lifting force. causes the moist-adiabatic lapse rate to increase toward the dry-adiabatic rate. It is stable with respect to a lifted air atmosphere is stable at this point because the parcel parcel as long as the parcel remains unsaturated. The rising parcel will thus eventually cool to the temperature of the surrounding air where the free convection will cease. A saturated parcel in free convection loses additional moisture by condensation as it rises. This may be in the vicinity of the tropopause or at some lower level. as we learned in chapter 3. per 1.and moist-adiabatic rates is plotted temperature lapse rates on the adiabatic conditionally unstable.5°F.000 feet.5°F. which has a lapse rate lying between the In our example. As the warmer than the surrounding air is called the level parcel is lifted. then follow the These are based. the parcel will saturation occurs.5°F. The unstable. reach the temperature of the surrounding air at The 80°F. Reliance on the parcel method of analyzing atmospheric stability must be tempered with considerable judgment. We will rate. and no longer the adiabatic chart with a slope of -1°F. plus the colder temperature aloft. depending on the temperature structure of the air aloft. in this case about 2. the parcel temperature will is 80°F. If we draw a line on to cool at the moist-adiabatic rate. on the initial as- moist-adiabatic rate. however. at the rate of 1°F. The temperature of a parcel raised from near the surface will peratures of parcels and the surrounding air. however. it then cools at the moist-adiabatic showing a temperature lapse rate of 4. is that there is no 54 . therefore. because it would be unstable under chart one can read differences between tem- saturated conditions but stable under unsaturated conditions. In our example. The altitude of the point is thus at the condensation The atmosphere illustrated by the above level. It is unstable with respect to a lifted saturated parcel. is said to be conditionally feet above sea level at a temperature of 58°. plotted on the accompanying chart. of these. and the dew point is 62°. The parcel Conditional Instability temperature at this point is therefore at the dew point. per 1. Above this level. For this example. in this case about 2. for example. level. At the level where the parcel temperature sumptions upon which the method is founded. The level at which the parcel becomes indicate that the parcel is initially unsaturated. example. temperature and 62° dew point 6. If the adiabatic chart. stable with respect to a lifted parcel as long as the parcel temperature follows the dry-adiabatic rate. continuing meanwhile decreases. It is true that from the A lapse rate between the dry. One exceeds the environment temperature. the parcel will begin free ascent.the dry-adiabatic and moist-adiabatic lines shown on shown by the sounding for the surrounding air. This layer is.000 feet. At start with a parcel at sea level where the temperature this rate of change.000 feet. we find that this line intersects the fty-adiabatic path of the parcel. follow the dry-adiabatic rate until saturation. per 1. surface 62° dew point. the measured lapse rate of the layer is 4.

it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5.2°F. the layer would be about 3. Equally important. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. If the layer is initially stable. or 12. per 1. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. however. 55 .000 feet.000 feet.5 / 3. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable. it is 12. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate. If no part of the layer reaches condensation.5 X 12. The usual vironment. attendant energy exchange.5 X 11. a 60. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. These are additional surrounding air.5°F. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F.000 feet. and raise it until its base is at 17.5°F.000 feet after lifting. subsidizing layer becomes more stable. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses.5 = method.. are summarized below. the bottom of a layer of air being assumptions with respect to conservation of mass lifted is more moist than the top and reaches its and energy. Similarly.5°F. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example. per 1. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. stable. are weather 5.000 to 8. sounding data and connecting them with straight lines Environment Parcel Dew-point Altitude temperature temperature temperature Sea level 80 80 * 62 2000’ 71 69 * Dry-adiabatic lapse rate 60 4000’ Condensation level 62 58 * 58 6000’ Level of free convection 53 53 ~ Moist-adiabatic laps 53 8000’ 44 48 ~ 48 LAYER STABILITY Many local fire-weather phenomena can be Originally. but after lifting it would be 66 .5°F. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. greater. however.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3. Vertical motion exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3. or 4. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20.5°F. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures.000 feet. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. However. Here again. or 66°F.

and is replaced by sinking colder air from above. Convection is a process by which air is lifted in the atmosphere. warmer. the internal depth and lapse rate of the layer will respond as indicated above. they are subjected to what is parcels reach their condensation level. Cooling of the bottom takes place at the slower warming more than the bottom. with the top sinking more and will consider several such processes. If the air is initially stable. seeking a like temperature level. Triggering mechanisms are required to begin Layers of air commonly flow in response to convective action. In an unstable if they are lifted up unstable layer is deep enough. it sinks back to its original level after passing over a ridge. the fire convection column will reach the stable. have been known to occur. the atmosphere unstable during the daytime. increasingly less stable at a rate faster than if Since the lapse rate of the atmosphere is condensation had not taken place. The layer then becomes apply to rising air. and clouds form. western regions and the Appalachians in the East. and if no condensation takes place. If it is neutrally stable. The layer resistance to lifting provided by the atmosphere. After its initial ineertia is overcome. the air will remain at its new level after crossing the ridge. because the general airflow is normally from a westerly direction. This is referred to as frontal lifting and is similar in effect to orographic lifting. convection will be suppressed. air given an initial uplift in this way keeps on rising. If the atmosphere remains At times. seen that surface heating makes the lower layers of though rare. as is explained in detail in the next may be a source of heat which will initiate convection. This is a very important clouds will form and may produce showers or process along our north-south mountain ranges in the thunderstorms if the atmosphere layer above the con. and they usually are present. normally stable. cumulus-type called orographic lifting. there must be some processes by A descending (subsiding) layer of stable air which air parcels or layers are lifted in spite of the becomes more stable as it lowers. is convection. In each case. heavier air masses. But we have condensation level and produce clouds. while the top continues to cool at processes involved are just the opposite of those that the dry-adiabatic rate. The adiabatic moist-adiabatic rate. Showers. so that the rising and over mountains. In doing so. chapter. Surface heating during the daytime makes the surface layer of air unstable. Wildfire also atmosphere. 56 . We compresses. lighter air layers frequently flow up and over colder. If the pressure gradients. initially stable air can become unstable. If the condensation level is reached in the lifting process. LIFTING PROCESSES A common process by which air is lifted in the densation level is conditionally unstable. Stable and unstable air masses react the same way regardless of whether they are lifted by the slope of topography or by the slope of a heavier air mass. As we will see in the chapter on air masses and fronts. the air is forced upward by the mom dense surrounding air.

In this process. two or more of the above proc- The airflow around surface low-pressure esses will act together. mountain peaks. and the only source is from aloft. and that near the replaced. so it can only go combine with convergence around a Low to upward. the air motion from aloft. or layerlike. clockwise and spirals inward. resulting in an adiabatic surface high-pressure areas are regions of sinking layer topped by an inversion. clouds. 57 . the resulting airflow depends to some extent upon the stability of the air. and upward motion in low-pressure areas. formation of stratus. Similarly. the stronger areas in the Northern Hemisphere is counter. These simple airflows may be complicated considerably by daytime heating and. the airflow is results in mixing of the air through the turbulent clockwise and spirals outward. This airflow away layer. Frequently. At times. Now. In the next chapter compared to the warming of air at the same altitude we will see why this is so. Airflow into frequently cumulus clouds. Turbulence associated with strong winds In surface high-pressure areas. can aid orographic lifting in consider the inflow only because it produces the development of deep convective currents. but here we will need to away from the ridges. some of the air near the top from a High is called divergence. low-pressure areas on a surface produce more effective upward motion. Thus. Thus. heating of air over ridges during the daytime. in some cases. It is prevented from going lifting may act together. or subsidence. weather map are regions of upward motion in the lower atmosphere. orographic and frontal the air must move. The air must be of the layer is mixed downward. We will resultant cooling near the top of the layer is consider subsidence in more detail later in this sufficient to produce condensation and the chapter. and frontal lifting may downward by the earth's surface.As air is lifted over mountain. bottom is mixed upward. by wave motion. over ridges and a Low from all sides is called convergence. For example.

stability of the air changes with above the surface by midafternoon. factors. and a shallow above or below another air mass with a different superadiabatic layer is formed.000 to during a daily cycle and the effects of various 2. and illustrated in clear skies and soon a shallow inversion is formed. particular on pages 27. The air within the inversion local land surfaces. occasionally reaching 1. becomes increasingly stable. The surface heating and cooling. During a typical light-wind. the unstable superadiabatic layer the inflow of warmer air at the top or colder air at deepens. Diurnal changes in surface heating and As the sun sets. The inflow of warmer (less currents and mixing generated in this layer extend dense) air at the bottom. . while day progresses. amount of cloud cover. maintained by intense and surface wind all acting together. extends the adiabatic layer to 4. and heated air mixing upward creates an the surface has a stabilizing effect. This mixing allows radia- On a typical fair-weather summer day. is usually confined to the lowest few consider first the changes in stability that take place hundreds of feet. The changes in adiabatic layer. that are common over temperatures fall. DIURNAL AND SEASONAL VARIATIONS IN STABILITY Stability frequently varies through a wide range a stable inversion near the surface. superadiabatie layer. Warming during the daytime makes it unstable. 28.000 feet over bare ground in midsummer. As the at the top of an air mass promotes instability. though mixing may well continue in the air above the inversion. produce daily changes The inversion continues to grow from the surface in stability. stability in the lower atmosphere goes through a regular cycle. Vertical motion in the fair-weather period. radiation cooling at night forms inversion layer is suppressed. or colder (more dense) air up to the barrier created by the inversion. discussed in chapter 2. the ground cools rapidly under cooling.000 or 5. then we will consider seasonal variations. Cooling at night near the surface stabilizes the layer of air next to the ground. from night inversions to daytime upward throughout the night as surface superadiabatic lapse rates. After sunrise. which eventually eliminates the lapse rate of a temperature sounding plotted on an inversion completely.000 feet At lower levels. We will heating. the earth and air of certain source-region characteristics moving near the surface begin to heat. Layering aloft may be due to an air mass at about daybreak. which in different layers of the atmosphere for various deepens until it reaches its maximum development reasons. Active mixing in warm seasons often layering shown in upper-wind measurements. Convective temperature structure. This usually occurs by mid or adiabatic chart frequently correspond closely to the late morning.

which distribution of ground cover. to strong a layer next to the ground until it is disturbed. and on the type and associated with strong wind results in mixing. but it may produce corresponding north slopes. and rocky soils Over level ground. and the resulting changes in air stability. This diurnal pattern of nighttime inversions and daytime superadiabatic layers near the surface can Topography also affects diurnal changes in the be expected to vary considerably. Clear skies and stability of the lower atmosphere. inclination. The amount of air Strong winds diminish or eliminate diurnal heating depends on orientation. Consequently. heated surface air. the onset of daytime heating initiates upslope wind systems. temperatures in that layer only slightly during the outcrops. barren. The rising Stability in the lower atmosphere varies locally heated air flows up the slopes and is swept aloft between surfaces that heat and cool at different above the ridge tops in a more-or-less steady stream. reach higher temperatures and have greater Mechanical turbulence at night prevents the instability above them during the day than do formation of surface inversions. The stability at night. in the that reach high daytime temperatures contribute to absence of strong winds to disperse it. the day. great surface is the origin of many of the important instability during the day. South-facing slopes tends to produce a dry-adiabatic lapse rate. Air in mountain low air moisture permit more intense heating at the valleys and basins heats up faster during the surface by day and more intense cooling by daytime and cools more rapidly at night than the air radiation at night than do cloudy skies. can remain in strong daytime instability and. have very spotty daytime stability conditions above them. Areas recently blackened by fire rising air frequently spirals upward in the form of a are subject to about the maximum diurnal variation whirlwind or dust in surface temperature 59 . thermal turbulence adds to the mechanical turbulence to produce effective mixing through a Instability resulting from superheating near the relatively deep layer. above deepen until they reach their maximum depth about mid afternoon. dark-colored. The lower over adjacent plains. and in part to days and more stable on clear nights. The ground cools rapidly after sundown and a shallow surface A night surface inversion (0700) is gradually eliminated by inversion is formed (1830). A surface superadiabatic layer and a dry-adiabatic layer before sunrise (0500). differences in circulation systems in flat and mountainous topography. or other good absorbers and radiators night. and variations in stability near the surface. conversely. Thus. Both cool about the an inversion at the top of the mixed layer. chapter 7. This is due in part to the atmosphere tends to be more unstable on clear larger area of surface contact. and stability at night occur convective winds which we will discuss in detail in when surface winds are light or absent. rates. reaching its maximum depth just day. This inversion deepens from the surface heating during the forenoon of a typical clear summer surface upward during the night. Turbulence shape of topography. Vegetated tional cooling above the inversion to lower areas that are interspersed with openings. During same at night. On mountain slopes.

In other cases. adjacent surface which rises. Greater columns. such as the up-flow in replaced by air that sinks and flows in beneath that low-pressure systems. If upper winds are unable to provide the triggering mechanism needed to overcome interia and release the instability in this superadiabatic layer. it moves upward as In the summer months.Strong heating may produce a pool of superheated air in poorly ventilated basins. and and early winter. the steepest reflect seasonal variation accordingly. normally supply the replacement air. The . high-pressure systems with their divergent flow scale updrafts and downdrafts in the same vicinity. In the lapse rates frequently occur during the spring. and warm air over of sunshine. Local heating often results in small. this is The result is a predominance of cool air over due to the difference in solar angle and the duration warming land in the spring. As explained in chapter 1. colder months. superadiabatic lapse rates occur only occasionally. and they may move out In addition to the seasonal effects directly violently. there is also The amount of solar radiation received at the an important effect that is caused by the lag in surface during the summer is considerably greater heating and cooling of the atmosphere as a whole. Thus. Pools of superheated air may also build variation in stability from day to day may be up and intensify in poorly ventilated valleys to expected in the colder months because of the produce a highly unstable situation. than in the winter. They persist greater variety of air masses and weather situations until released by some triggering mechanism which that occur during this stormy season. SUBSIDENCE Air that rises in the troposphere must be On a larger scale. Temperature profiles and stability cooling surfaces in the fall. devil. overcomes inertia. superadiabatic intermittent bubbles or in more-or-less continuous conditions are the role on sunny days. a potentially explosive fire weather situation develops. caused by changes in solar radiation. inversions become more whereas the strongest inversions occur during fall pronounced and more persistent.

the air beneath must flow outward.000-foot level. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing.000 feet thick with a warm. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out. in adjacent low-pressure areas. or even higher. The temperature lapse rate in the areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent. Below the inversion. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs. The accompanying chart shows a simplified This process can well take place in other illustration of the subsidence inversion on 3 regions when the subsidence inversion reaches low-enough levels so it can be eliminated by . therefore. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high.outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F. diverge. elevations will experience warm temperatures and sinking from even the middle troposphere to near very low humidities both day and night. deep. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. The can be effective in bringing dry air from aloft down descent rate is observed by following the progress to the surface and mixing the more moist air from of the subsidence inversion on successive near the surface to higher levels. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. In lowering to the surface. For example. the saturation absolute humidity This air may be drier than can be measured with of air in the upper troposphere with a temperature standard sounding equipment. The temperature lapse rate from the place.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30. The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air.000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet. Then. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. becomes progressively slower near the surface. Sometimes these systems extend all the there is an abrupt rise in the moisture content of the way from the surface up to the tropopause.000-2. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low. Two features. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. Often. When this happens. saturation would represent 1.000-foot level. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion. and its them. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. of -50° to -60°F. it is subjected to Subsidence in a warm high-pressure system intensive heating and becomes warmer and progresses downward from its origin in the upper warmer until finally the subsidence inversion is troposphere. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air. is commonly about 5. is less than 0. Deep air. the relative humidity surface. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. where troposphere and then stops. or surface to the base of the dry air. upper-air soundings. drying. would then be less than 2 percent. dry subsiding of moisture. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. Some sea level. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture. inversion. If the subsidence Frequently.000 cubic feet. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer.02 pounds per 1. This subsidence inversion is moisture. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6. air successive stages. We need. or higher. this air may broad layer. Thus.

temperatures increase along the air trajectory. whether they are the chinook of the . it is inversion may be effective in eating away the base likely to be on the south. By Convective currents in the layer beneath the the time the sinking air reaches the surface. southwest. Mountain waves can bring air from great downward path rather than a strictly vertical path. heights down to the surface on the lee side with A vertical sounding may show that the subsiding air very little external modification. surface daytime heating. dry and southern sides of a high-pressure area where air cannot reach the surface by convection. the drier air aloft is allowed to sink and warm adiabatically. which we vertically. However. This process will warm and dry the surface layer somewhat. As the more humid surface air flows outward. If the heating is not process is most likely to occur around the eastern sufficient to eliminate the inversion. as shown by dashed lines. if surface air temperatures treated in depth in chapter 6. Waves of quite large amplitude Another method by which dry. the warm. but Subsiding air may reach the surface in a humidities cannot reach the extremely low values dynamic process through the formation of mountain characteristic of a true subsidence situation. are warmer downstream. subsiding air can be established over and on the leeward side of may reach the surface is by following a sloping ranges. or even west of the inversion and mixing some of the dry air side of the High. waves when strong winds blow at right angles to mountain ranges. This is intense enough to do the job. above with the more humid air below. the subsiding air can sink In the mountain areas of the West. The inversion will be dry-adiabatically to lower levels as it moves down wiped out only in local areas where surface heating stream and may eventually reach the surface.The descent of a subsidence inversion may be followed on successive soundings. foehn winds. because the layer beneath it is cooler will touch off only briefly here since they will be and denser. These waves may is much too warm to reach the surface by sinking also be a part of the foehn-wind patterns.

The mountain ranges act as Basin. eastern slopes of the Rockies. while lower coastal slpes are influenced by the cool. high elevations in the coastal mountains. or the Mono and northeast pressure gradient. and carry more moist air from the surface to higher levels. subsiding air have warm temperatures and very low humidities both day and night. the Santa Ana of air is forced across the ranges by the prevailing southern California. extending into the dry. A foehn is a wind flowing down the leeward barriers to the flow of the lower layer of air so that side of mountain ranges where the air crossing the ranges comes Heating of the west coast marine layer as it moves inland on clear summer days may destroy the subsidence inversion. humid marine layer.Along the west coast in summer. wind of central and northern California. 63 . As a dry-adiabatic lapse rate is established. are all Subsidence occurs above the High where the associated with a high-pressure area in the Great air is warm and dry. convective mixing can bring dry air from aloft down to the surface.

It also surface on the leeward side of the mountains. Usually the subsiding air is well in the West. most common and strongest from time to time. The strongest winds and driest air are the Rockies from the Hudson Bay area or found where the mountain waves dip down to the Northwest Canada mostly in spring and fall. Subsiding air reaching the surface is perhaps less common in eastern regions. Colo. when the Bermuda High extends well westward into the country. the Great Basin leeward side of the mountain. they create a very spotty periphery of Highs moving into the region cast of pattern. but does occur Mountain waves.) (Percent) tion) (m. chinook winds were reported all along the east slope of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado. But subsidence is often a eastern and other mountain ranges. and in which mountain waves probably played an important part.h. from the dryer layer aloft. marine air persists much of the time in surface layer slightly. The Denver observation at 1900 hours showed: Relative Temperature Dew point humidity Wind (Direc- (°F..p. are also characteristic of flow over modified by convection. subsiding air which penetrates the continent in recurring surges to produce long Daytime convective currents may eat away the base of a periods of clear skies and dry weather.) 60 -29 1 W 22 The extremely low dew point indicates that the air must have originated in the high troposphere. Surface relative humidity at Denver remained at 3 percent or below from noon until midnight that day. This process will warm and dry the Fortunately. but humidities cannot reach extremely low the lower layer along the immediate coast and values unless the subsiding air reaches the surface. . Cases of severe subsidence are much more frequent in the western half of the country than in the eastern regions. If the pressure gradient is favorable for removing the surface air on the In the fall and winter months. sudsidence inversion and mix some of the dry air above with the more humid air below. When they factor in the severe fire weather found around the occur with foehn winds. is the Denver. the most critical fire-weather situations known anywhere. elevations. Moat of the Pacific coast area is affected in summer by the deep semi- permanent Pacific High. discussed above. On December 9. the dry air from aloft High is a frequent source of subsiding air is allowed to flow down the lee slopes to low associated with the foehn winds.) (°F. The dryness and warmth of this air It is the level of origin of this air that gives these combined with the strong wind flow produce winds their characteristic dryness. partially modifies the subsiding air before it reaches the surface. occurs during summer and early fall periods of drought. situation of December 1957. This provides a huge reservoir of dry. An example of a severe subsidence condition associated with chinook winds.

with little modification. or subsidence. and moisture patterns marine layer along the Pacific coast coincide with that promote stability. distances from the upper-air stations. In mountainous country. moisture conditions in the air layer between the two levels. Cloud types also indicate atmospheric sta- similar measurements indicate the strength of the inversion. The tops of clouds in the major pressure. temperature. revealing. Haze and mountaintop and valley-bottom stations provide smoke tend to hang near the ground in stable air reasonable estimates of the lapse rate and and to disperse upward in unstable air. instability. The heights of surface or low-level 65 . to supplement these observations with Other visual indicators are often quite local measurements or with helpful indicators.Subsiding air above a High windward of a mountain range may be carried with the flow aloft and brought down to the leaward surface. The height at which broad general picture of the atmospheric structure rising smoke flattens out may indicate the base of a over North America. Gusty wind. Dust devils are always temperature and humidity measurements taken at indicators of instability near the surface. LOCAL INDICATORS OF STABILITY The continent-wide network of weather stations inversions can be determined by traversing slopes that make regular upper-air soundings gives a that extend through them. Stability in the lower layers is indicated by the steadiness of the surface wind. it may be possible to take upper-air wind is indicative of stable air. aircraft or helicopters. A steady At times. These soundings show the low-level inversion. We need. The height of they frequently do not provide an accurate the cloud tops provides a good estimate of the description of the air over localities at appreciable height of the inversion. by mountain waves. therefore. but the base of the subsidence inversion. except observations with portable instruments in fixed-wing where mechanical turbulence is the obvious cause. is typical of unstable air. In areas where inversions form at night.

Intense summer temperature may provide the only advance warning heating can produce strong convective currents in of subsidence. The absence of In mountainous country. . Visible indicator of a stable atmosphere. and provide a warning of very low subsidence very likely is occurring above humidities at lower elevations in the afternoon. sharp drop in relative humidity with the arrival of though. Hygrothermograph records and the lower atmosphere. Stratus-type cloud sheets vertical currents and therefore indicate instability. Cumulus-type clouds contain the cumulus level. or lower in cumulus clouds are present during the day and are summer or early fall may signal the presence of not developing vertically to any great extent. Even if scattered dew-point temperatures of 20°F. Visible indicator of a stable atmosphere. Early morning that subsidence is occurring aloft. the absence of clouds is a good indication subsiding air at the mountaintop. a low dew-point mean that the air is stable. even if the air is too dry for wet.bility at their level. where fire lookouts on cumulus clouds. however. subsiding air.and dry-bulb temperature observations show a condensation and cloud formation. The heights of cumulus clouds indicate the depth and intensity of the instability. indicate stable layers in the atmosphere. Generally. does not necessarily high peaks take observations.

surface characteristics. some extent its pressure. A small decrease with height indicates a air over a broad area. during evaporation. the surface. distribution both horizontally and vertically. occurrence of dust devils. decrease of temperature with height indicates an unstable condition which promotes up and down Subsidence is the gradual lowering of a layer of currents. During condensation in with basic physical laws and with the statics of the saturated air. If some mechanism is present by which this warm. and to heat is absorbed and may increase stability. and other troposphere influences vertical motion. In the next chapter. in the troposphere. moisture. may have a conditionally unstable situation in which the atmosphere's stability depends upon whether or The first four chapters have been concerned not the air is saturated. heat is released which warms the air atmosphere-its temperature and moisture and their and may produce instability. and see how they are related to atmospheric with wind speed. When it begins at high levels stable condition which inhibits vertical motion. we will consider pressure distributions more thoroughly Atmospheric stability varies with local heating. We can use type of cloud.and circulation. A large phenomena as indicators of stability. which has little initial Where the temperature increases with height. becomes increasingly warmer with through an inversion. warm. cold air advection. a Between stable and unstable lapse rates we very serious fire situation can result. SUMMARY In this chapter we have seen how the other factors. and many 67 . dry air can reach the surface. the atmosphere is extremely resulting lower relative humidity as it approaches stable. wind-flow distribution of temperature vertically in the characteristics. the air.

If we are to become acquainted with these variations in fire weather. we must understand how they are brought about. and the settings in which they take place. and in seasonal changes in fire weather. The response to overall airflow applies also to local fuel conditions. Chapter 5 GENERAL CIRCULATION Local fire-weather elements-wind. moisture. temperature. so an understanding of general air circulation within the troposphere is essential to a usable knowledge of wildland fire behavior. and stability-respond continually to the varying patterns of pressure systems and to the changing properties of huge masses of air moving in generally predictable circulations over the earth's surface. These broadscale circulations determine the regional patterns of rapidly changing fire weather-long term trends resulting in periods of wetness or drought and above or below-normal temperatures. .

Most of the major nature. Since expands and is forced aloft by the cooler. or. by both methods. In accomplished by closed horizontal “cells” with the polar regions it would descend and begin to north-south flow. move toward the Equator. it would cool completely understood. In this hypothetical case the transport of heat could take place by simple convective circulation. since polar regions do not become progressively colder. are regions the earth’s surface radiates more energy characterized by rising air. GENERAL CIRCULATION So far we have been concerned principally with heated uniformly. denser equatorial regions do not get hotter and hotter. . disturbing forces are present. The earth is not PRIMARY CIRCULATION In equatorial regions the earth’s surface Certainly this is a very hypothetical situation. In polar surfaces. and pressure. uniform. In this motions. But general circulation as it relates to fire weather. which tend to reduce the horizontal chapter we will begin a more detailed consideration temperature differences. of the dynamics of the atmosphere-its motion-which was introduced in chapter 1. and therefore acts as a discussion. and the resultant unequal heating the static properties of the atmosphere-its of the atmosphere causes compensating air temperature. then spread out and flow both north and features of the general circulation that is not south. future modifications of be no atmospheric motion-no circulation. Theories and models. there must be some net transport of heat In equatorial regions the warm air would rise to energy from equatorial to polar regions. Convective Circulation At the earth’s surface there would be a permanent low-pressure belt around the earth at the Equator Let us suppose that the earth's surface was and a high-pressure area at each pole. As it moved toward the poles. reach a level of the same air how this is accomplished is one of the major density. and that it was uniformly heated around the entire Equator. Just near the tropopause. The present-day theories resulting from further research pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere will not seriously affect out understanding of the would be the same everywhere at a given level. perhaps. and air flowing in from adjacent areas. are not wholly accepted because gravity-and rotating with the earth. The actual motions that are developed within the atmosphere are extremely complex and are not yet We learned in chapter 1 that the atmosphere is fully understood. Therefore. but let receives more solar energy from the sun than it us accept it for the sake of development of our radiates back to space. by large-scale eddies. which have a gaseous mantle encasing the earth held there by been derived. If forces were not present to act on the features of the global circulations are rather well atmosphere and upset its equilibrium. there would understood. that the earth did not rotate. This transport could be by radiation and sink as its density increased. moisture. We know that regions of warm heat source for the air in these regions. The warming air into space than it receives from the sun. which warm the air overlying them. We will consider both methods. Within this huge they do not completely account for all of the envelope of air there are motions of a variable observed atmospheric motions.

it descends and returns to the heat source. rotating toward the east on its axis. As it cools. Since the northward airflow aloft just north of the equatorial region becomes nearly a true westerly flow. The reason for the deflection is that the earth. the ball would trace a curved path on the disk with a deflection to the right. that is. its path as viewed from a position on the earth is curved. A boy tossing a ball from the center outward would find that the ball made a straight path in space. let us consider a are the result of the unequal large disk or merry-go-round. near the tropopause. the northward movement is slowed and the air "piles If the general circulation could be represented by a simple up" at about latitude 30°N. then spread out both north and south. rotating in a counterclockwise direction. Likewise. . How the Earth's Rotation Affects Airflow: Coriolis Force If a maps of air. we will need to consider why and how the earth's rotation affects airflow. On the rotating earth. it is a fact that if the boy were stationed at any place on the rotating disk and tossed the ball in any horizontal direction. Although more difficult to visualize. turns underneath the moving air or body. or any other body. an air current in the Northern Hemisphere starting as a southerly wind. worm air expands and is Coriolis force. force. The real circulation patterns To visualize the Coriolis force. It is an apparent rather than a real forced aloft. Before we discuss the circulation on a rotating earth with a uniform surface. This deflective force is called the In a simple convective circulation. moves in a straight line as viewed from a position in space. but since we are stationed on earth and view motions from the earth. but traced a curved path on the disk below showing a deflection toward the right. this simple convective pattern cannot exist. moving toward the north. is its single source of energy. as representing the Northern Hemisphere. heated air at the Equator would rise to considerable heat by radiation. a north wind deflected to the right becomes a northeast or east wind. Toward the poles. and since the sun all earthbound positions. The air also loses convective circulation. heating mentioned above combined with the effect of the earth's rotation and the unequal partitioning of heat due to the uneven distribution of land and sea areas. The curvature indicates a deflection to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and a deflection to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. would be deflected to the right and become a southwest or west wind. the deflection is real from Since the earth does rotate. it would cool. and finally descend and move back to the Equator.

and flows southward. Instead. up and over the forward edge of the denser polar some of the air descends. counterclockwise rotating disk will take a straight path as the polar front zone. The air aloft that gradually moves northward continue to lose heat. the effect On a rotating earth with a uniform surface. This current is also turned to the right by the Coriolis force and becomes the polar easterlies of high latitudes. resist mixing. In the polar regions it descends. while the rest continues in the westerly current aloft. Air that has descended flows This type of cellular circulation causes air to both northward toward the pole and southward accumulate in the polar region. The polar and tropical air in space. the path traced on the masses. becomes the northeast trades of the low latitudes. and polar easterlies. tend to disk will show a deflection to the right. . which have different densities. Again. the lighter tropical air flows Because of the piling up and the heat loss. of the earth's rotation comes into play. The southward-flowing current. When the toward the Equator at the surface. also deflected to the right. in fact any location) northward-flowing tropical air in what is referred to on a large. prevailing westerlies. producing a surface air. because of the Coriolis force. high-pressure belt. but. The northward-flowing current is turned to the right and becomes the prevailing westerlies of middle latitudes. the general circulation of the Northern Hemisphere would be composed of the trade winds. The cold air gradually pushes southward and finally meets the A ball tossed horizontally from the center (or. gives up additional heat to the surface.

others are migratory. and the cold polar air penetrates to fairly low latitudes in a "polar outbreak". easterlies. Its position around the hemisphere is in this region is usually best developed over the extremely variable. If we are to earth in the equatorial region. polar front zone. is a zone of storminess. balancing the weight of the atmosphere against that which remain relatively fixed. North of here are the polar hurricanes. The equatorial region of warm and moist rising air currents is referred to as the doldrums. and widespread shower activity. high pressure in the polar region. and polar easterlies. These are known as: Doldrums. and little outbreaks. to about 55°N. However. It is a region of light surface winds. it does in the summer and early fail. little cloudiness. the high atmospheric pressure precipitation. as precipitation. and its position is extremely variable. a band of high understand and predict the weather. it becomes the The belt of westerlies extends from about "breeding ground" for tropical storms and 30°N. trade winds. at other times it is carried far northward rainfall. of a column of mercury. is a region of descending zone. heat energy is carried northward by the airflow aloft. and cold air moves southward in cold outbreaks to maintain a balance of energy between equatorial and polar regions. Instead we find pressure cells-areas with the force of gravity acting on this mass. some of which we have already mentioned. When The polar front zone is an area of storminess. The polar front Near latitude 30°N. This primary circulation system results in the formation of several well-defined major regional circulation patterns or wind belts. and an area of pressure. Some of these are semi permanent cells. and As we will see later. Sometimes it plunges far oceans. prevailing westerlies. in the Northern Hemisphere and southeast trades particularly to the meandering stream of westerly in the Southern Hemisphere. Another type 72 . We latitudes is the belt of trade winds-northeast trades will see later that it is tied to the circulation aloft. a band of low determine the distribution of atmospheric pressure in the polar front zone..mass becomes great enough. Between the doldrums and the horse with intrusions of tropical air to high latitudes. and the doldrum belt moves north from the Equator. we need to pressure about latitude 30°N. if we Atmospheric pressure was introduced to us in study the distribution of pressure over the Northern chapter 1. cloudiness. cloudiness. PRESSURE PATTERNS The simple primary circulation described above The weather is closely related to these pressure should result in a band of low pressure around the cells and other pressure patterns. considerable cloudiness. winds in the upper troposphere. horse latitudes. easterlies mentioned earlier. We learned that the atmosphere has Hemisphere we do not find the bands to be entirely mass and that atmospheric pressure is the result of uniform. between the prevailing westerlies and polar air and high pressures known m the horse latitudes. higher or lower pressure than the surrounding Atmospheric pressure can be measured by region. In this simplified circulation system. The high-pressure areas are characterized southward into middle latitudes with cold air by light variable winds. the polar front zone is pushed southward. This is done with a mercurial barometer.

called isobars. We also learned in points of equal pressure. Meteorologists determining the structure of the atmosphere. pressure and to expand with decreasing pressure. first of all. Isobars outline areas of high and low pressure. pressure measurements taken simul. Secondly. called isobars. Isobars may be thought of as contours of Constant-Level. of air extending from the level of the station down to of barometer. called an aneroid. through pressure reading on a scale. The adding to the station pressure the weight of a pressure surfaces used in the hypothetical column 73 . such as is done on the sea-level another. usually sea level. we need. Isobars are labeled in chapter I that atmospheric pressure at any location millibars (mb. Such tend to collapse under increasing atmospheric weather maps are called synoptic charts.. has a partially sea level. however. so constructed that the sides central point and plotted on a weather map. Pressure patterns aloft are also important in taneously at a number of stations. are portrayed in a slightly different way. To study the pressure distribution. This movement is magnified by levers and is A graphical picture of the pressure distribution transmitted to a hand or pen. the variations in the height of a common level. 4 mb. since stations are at different elevations and we Instead of determining pressure variations at a wish to compare one pressure measurement with constant level. Constant-Pressure Charts pressure. This is done by constant-pressure surface are charted.A surface weather map is a graphical picture of the pressure distribution obtained by drawing lines. Corrected readings are collected at a vacuated metallic cell. which indicates the is obtained by drawing lines. although the interval may vary with the map scale. They refer to these as synoptic observations. through points of equal sea-level pressure. somewhat similar to contours of eleva- tions on a topographic map.) and are drawn usually for intervals of varies with time and decreases with altitude. we need to correct the pressures to a chart just described.

The only difference is that the constant pressure chart depicts the height of a pressure surface. and a line of high pressure is referred to as a ridge. A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. while the topographic map depicts the height of the ground surface above sea level. When a weather map is analyzed as described patterns. Frequently a trough delineates the boundary between two different airflows and is a common place for the development of storm centers. or that have a lower pressure than the surrounding region. if sufficient moisture is present. The isobars show a cyclonic curvature at the trough line but do not form a closed circulation. For our purpose. The curvature of the isobars in Lows.000 feet).000 feet). in a ridge. Latent energy released by the condensation adds to the energy of the circulation system. it makes little difference whether we think of pressure distribution in terms of a constant-level or constant-pressure chart. and. 74 . and 300 mb. They are also called cyclones because the air flows around them in a cyclonic direction (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. (about 18. Troughs a trough is cyclonic. of the pressure surface at a number of stations are plotted on a weather map. These are called low-pressure centers or areas.000 feet). The pressure along the line is lower than the pressure on either side. Air around a low flows counterclockwise in the northern Hemisphere and spirals inward. Areas of high pressure on a constant level chart would appear as areas of high heights on a constant-pressure chart. Lows are usually characterized by inward and rising air motion.troposphere are 850 Tabs. and low-pressure areas would show up as low heights. (about 10. Contours of height for 60-meter intervals are drawn through points of equal height. (about 30.000 feet). 700 mb. (about 5. The characteristics of a trough are similar to those of a Low. 500 mb. anticyclonic. This converging airflow produces rising motion. usually in tens of meters. These contours are strictly analogous to the contours on a topographic map. On a sea-level chart we will find areas above. precipitation will result. Sufficient lifting with adequate moisture will produce condensation of water vapor into clouds and may result in precipitation. or simply Lows for short. The heights above sea level. we find certain configurations. which results in cooling and increased relative humidity.

For this reason. straight flow at a level high enough in the depends upon the latitude. as and the Coriolis force is achieved when these two mentioned above. PRESSURE AND WIND RELATIONS Air always moves in response to pressure differences. but the isobars do not form a closed Circulation around a High is clockwise in the Northern circulation. as the air moves. As it moves. with descending air and a minimum of cloudiness and precipitation are minimum/ cloudiness and precipitation. If these forces are diagrammed. this is that the Coriolis force is caused by the rota- Airflow can take place along a straight or tion of the earth's surface beneath the airflow. We call it a High for short. This right in the Northern Hemisphere. which causes a deflection to the deflected to the right by the Coriolis force. it may be extremely dry. The pressure gradient These include the pressure-gradient force. isobars are drawn for specific forces oppose each other with equal magnitudes. and friction. Ridges High-pressure cells are another type of pressure pattern observed on analyzed weather maps. Balance between the pressure-gradient force millibars per 100 miles. Ridges exhibit characteristics similar to Hemisphere and spirals outward. The curvature of isobars at a ridgeline is anticyclonic. it is Coriolis force. directed centrifugal force if air is flowing in a curved and its magnitude depends upon both the speed of path. If the air descends from very high altitudes. the high to low pressure. This rotation. The airflow in a High is generally outward and descending. gradient. which force tends to make air flow across the isobars from causes air to move from high to low pressure. which opposes all air movement the airflow and upon the latitude. Highs are usually areas of minimum cloudiness and little or no precipitation. The pressure is higher along the ridge than on either side. Ridges are lines of high pressure. with the result that Highs. an outwardly force acts in a direction perpendicular to the airflow. For this case. the pressure-gradient 75 . Pressure gradient may be defined as the Geostrophic. It may also be referred to as an anticyclone because the windflaw around a High is anticyclone (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). Flow change of pressure per unit distance. its speed and direction of closer the isobar spacing. A high-pressure area is surrounded on all sides by lower pressure. But. intervals of pressure. pressure-gradient force and the Coriolis force. Highs. is negligible. for example. the rotation of the surface around a vertical axis that is. the stronger the pressure motion are governed by a combination of forces. only two of the forces is greatest at the poles and decreases to zero at mentioned above need be considered the the Equator. and atmosphere so that friction with the earth's surface therefore the latitudinal effect of the Coriolis force. The The resulting flow is then parallel to the isobars. This divergent flow is accompanied by downward motion. rather than across the isobars. The reason for near the surface of the earth. Let us consider first the simpler case. On the sea level map. and vice versa. and curved path.

The Coriolis force Hemisphere. Straight flow. high pressure is on the right in the Northern Hemisphere. and so does the airflow. is termed geostrophic flow and implies balance between the pressure gradient and Coriolis forces. which is at right angles to the flow. Gradient Flow: Highs and Lows In most areas on a weather map the isobars are curved rather than straight. the direction of the pressure gradient force changes. If the forces direction of low pressure. As with geostrophic flow. When these forces are in balance. – Friction with the earth’s surface causes air to flow spirally At a given latitude. that is. to follow the curving isobars. a greater air speed will occur at lower latitudes than at higher latitudes because of the influence of latitude on the Coriolis force. and the centrifugal force. – In a low the pressure-gradient force tends to balance the Coriolis and centrifugal forces. Right. a balance must exist between the pressure-gradient force. and the resultant flow is anticyclonic. but it is known as gradient flow. counterclockwise around a Low. which occurs in regions of straight-line isobars. With outward. as one looks Geostrophic flow occurs in regions of straight-line isobars.a is at right angles to the isobars and directed decrease in the distance between isobars. The result is Left. The balance of forces for gradient flow is more force is drawn at right angles to the isobars in the complicated than for geostrophic flow. the speed of the airflow increases with outward across the isobars from a High and spirally inward increased pressure gradient. When the equal pressure gradients. The downstream. which is outward. is at right angles to the airflow and directed toward At a given latitude the speed of the airflow. an additional force must be considered-the outwardly directed centrifugal force. distance between isobars. the right. the airflow is still parallel to the isobars. Therefore. 76 . the Coriolis force. In a High the Coriolis force tends to balance the pressure-gradient and centrifugal forces. Here. The flow is ways clockwise around a high-pressure center and parallel to the isobars. The Coriolis force is around a Low were diagrammed. and the resultant flow is cyclonic (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). with a decrease in the around a Low. For steady motion. that as air moves. with high pressure on the right. the direction of flow is al- pressure-gradient force from high to low pressure balances the Coriolis force. and the centrifugal force increases with an increased pressure gradient . the drawn at right angles to the line of motion and is pressure-gradient force is drawn at right angles to directed toward the right in the Northern the isobars and directed inward.

and the Coriolis force is directed Friction inward. But when we consider airflow near pressure gradient. very strong wind speeds near the center of Lows. The do observe. For steady motion there must be a balance One other characteristic difference also exists.and high-pressure systems. amount of deviation depends upon the rough- ness of the terrain and will vary from 10 to 15 degrees over water to 25 to 45 degrees over “Back to the wind. outward. We find. Because the centrifugal force is added to The effect of friction on airflow is to retard the the pressure-gradient force in a High. increased pressure Coriolis. If the forces around a High are diagrammed. and of ten the isobars from high to low pressure. We can have. Because of friction.three forces are in balance. the wind speed in a direction opposite to the airflow. isobars. gradients are usually much stronger. air near the surface flows from high. Air accumulated near the surface in low centers is forced aloft. a reduction in the pressure gradient. curved flow at levels high enough in the atmos- In both low. high pressure on the right” is a useful rule. friction is a force acting in a subtracted from it in a Low. The resulting bal- gradients and increased air speeds may occur as anced motion is a flow directed slightly across the center is approached. exceeded as the center is approached. that is. centrifugal. we find higher wind speed because of friction produces a wind speeds in Lows because the pressure reduction in the Coriolis force. In a High. and friction forces. because of the balance of forces there is force balances the sum of the Coriolis and a limiting value of wind speed that cannot be centrifugal forces. and movement. that Highs have low wind speeds and the centrifugal force is. This means that the sum of the pressure-gradient and centrifugal forces balances So far we have considered straight flow and the Coriolis force. we must account for the friction force. therefore. still directed weak pressure gradients near their centers. Since the Coriolis High will be greater than in a Low with the same force varies with the wind low-pressure areas. In a low-pressure system. In spite of this. the removal of air from High centers requires downward displacement of air. Therefore. with closer spacing of the the ground. among the pressure-gradient. the pressure-gradient however. of course. the phere so that the force of friction could be speed of the wind increases with increased disregarded. 77 . But now the pressure gradient force is directed outward.

the surface. long-wavelength pattern. This belt of westerlies forms a large other is a small-amplitude. The region beneath a long-wave trough is likely to have cloudy. the effect of friction can be disregarded. These horizontal waves appear as and the same relationships apply to constant part of the pattern of an upper-air chart. short-wavelength to be more nearly parallel to the isobars. called Hemisphere consists of a broad belt of westerly meridional. They constant-pressure surface. the airflow aloft in the Northern large-amplitude. The combined effects of these upward in the atmosphere. of directions. CIRCULATION PATTERNS AT UPPER LEVELS Our discussion of Highs. pressure charts used to portray the upper-air circulations described earlier. The long waves move slowly. and short difference is that the pressure-gradient force is waves which are superimposed on the pattern of represented by the gradient of height of the long waves. The depth of its influences can be seen by comparing the observed influence varies directly with surface roughness and surface winds with the sea-level isobars on a with atmospheric instability. as with his back to the wind has high pressure to his well as the migrations of these systems. wet Circumpolar Westerlies weather with below-normal temperatures. A person standing the intensification or decay of existing The region beneath a long-wave ridge is and Lows-tend to decrease in frequency with likely to experience clear. surface weather map. They are less complicated because the westerlies may go far to the south and allow cold effects of local heating of land and water. at altitudes higher than 2. and even retrograde on occasion. The same terms wavelength. in which . Additional deviations develop because course. ridges. the airflow tends Friction assists in the transfer of air from high. In a long-wave trough. and of polar air to reach low latitudes. an are more in evidence. The balance of Meteorologists classify the waves into two forces for airflow on a constant-pressure chart is categories: Long waves which usually number similar to that on a constant-level chart. The only three to seven around the hemisphere.000 feet above friction than without friction. Except for a deep layer of easterly flow in Two types of long-wave patterns in the belt of equatorial regions. it is a meandering has been concerned primarily with the surface map. and around a Low near the surface. greatest near the surface and decreases of local terrain. It is effective in carrying tropical air to winds extending from the subtropics to the polar high latitudes and polar air to low latitudes. remain stationary for a disregarded on upper-air charts. The effect of friction is. instead. Because of friction. One is a troposphere. air flows spirally outward from a High and spirally inward The development of new pressure systems. which reaches to the upper westerlies are distinguished. The speed of the airflow is always lower with Generally. An upper-air chart of the called zonal. and low-pressure on his many deviations in observed wind speeds and left and a little forward. The major or large-scale hemispheric circulations A persistent long-wave pattern plays. current forming waves of varying amplitude and which is a constant-level map. low-pressure areas. above-normal temperatures. Northern Hemisphere will show that this is not a and the relationship between pressure and wind smooth circular vortex. The regions. Above this altitude. troughs. but completely closed circulations-Highs weather. Lows. cause right and a little to the rear. The friction force is may drift eastward slowly. dry weather with altitude. The westerly current in a long-wave ridge may go The circulation patterns in the middle and upper far to the north and allow tropical air to be carried to troposphere are quite different from those near the high latitudes. Troughs and ridges are important role in prolonged periods of abnormal common. topography on air movements are greatly reduced. the surface. circumpolar vortex. number of days.

the short-wave troughs and ridges. charts. Like the polar front. which moved. Contours may indicate a closed High in a large-amplitude. Long waves cannot be shown by lines because The Lows eventually dissipate at high latitudes. the exact positions are usually obscured by short Cold polar Highs moving south. They move northward around long-wave ridges and southward through long wave troughs.h. This fast-flowing river of air near the tropopause has wind speeds of 50 to 150 or 200 m.p.000 to 7. indicating that the air moves excess heat away from lower latitudes (mentioned through the waves. The migration of large-scale eddies . The long-wave latitudes is west to east. pattern. eventually merge with semi-permanent Highs in the horse latitudes. The cyclonically associated with migratory Lows and Highs at the rotating Lows in their travel from lower to higher surface. 79 . it is found in segments 1. the jet stream is found only in those trough position.000 to 3.000 feet deep. In fact. tend to deepen in the long-wave region.000 miles long. these large cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies are mechanisms by which warm air is transported northward and cold air is transported southward across the middle-latitude belt of westerlies. and their movement is about the same latitudes on the east side of long-wave troughs are speed as the surface systems. The same Short waves are smaller. from the southwest and Northern Mexico into the Mississippi the second method of transporting the wind speed aloft.the principal movement of Highs and Lows in mid. long-wave ridge. the principal one is the polar-front jet stream associated with the surface polar front. Thus. effective in pulling warm tropical air far north ahead of them and cold polar air far south behind them. Closed Lows may be found in long-wave troughs.the Highs The speed of the short waves is usually slower than and Lows . Closed circulations are sometimes found within the troughs and ridges aloft. It rarely encircles the entire hemisphere as a continuous river of air. The short waves are at the beginning of this chapter). Jet Stream Within the belt of westerlies there is often a core of very strong winds. Short-wave upper troposphere is concentrated in the jet-stream troughs. Below the one. which proceed through the long wave short-wave ridges. Generally. These two 500 mb. It meanders in a wavelike pattern as part of the general westerly flow. It is usually 100 to 400 miles wide and 3. but develop as they move out of the trough. 12 hours apart. illustrate short wave The north-south temperature gradient in the moving through the long-wave pattern. usually on the west waves. shown by dashed lines. which extends into Northern Mexico. as did the developed. it is stronger in some places than others. More frequently. trough positions are usually identified by the place where short-wave troughs deepen. and occasionally in short-wave troughs. Short-wave areas where a marked temperature gradient has ridges. shown by solid lines. called a jet stream. rapidly moving applies to long-wave ridge positions and oscillations. what one sees are side of long-wave troughs. When more than one jet stream occurs. Short waves are indistinct in the long-wave ridge position in the Gulf of Alaska. are indistinct in the long-wave trough.

and the development of other. in turn. the nonuniform character summer. on the average. Similarly. which. rather than found over the continents. less per- manent cells is also a function of seasons. These may be displaced from their normal positions occasionally. and at times portions. The stippling shows the regions of strongest winds that move along the jet stream. these semi-permanent circulations. The seasonal position of the jet stream is related to seasonal weather. the oceans are colder than the land.and low-pressure semi-permanent Low develops in summer and a systems appear so consistently in certain areas similar Low on a smaller scale is found in our that they are considered semi-permanent and are Southwest. the Aleutian Low in the Northern Pacific. A second jet stream south of the upper troposphere. Usually though. The Highs tend to be more in latitude and in the distribution of land and water persistent than the Lows. is pressure in the polar front zone. due to stronger heating. the Azores-Bermuda High in the America. the region to the right is warm as one faces downstream. is meandering. Above the jet stream. In the As mentioned earlier. especially the combined results of the primary it secondary Lows. the continents are given names. and the Icelandic Low in the Northern Atlantic. As it moves southward in the winter it also moves to higher altitudes and. and the region to the left is cold. TYPICAL CIRCULATION PATTERNS The circulations that we observe are the will break off and become migratory. its speed increases. other jet streams may exist high above surface fronts where the temperature contrast between air The jet stream. and high pressure is common over North the Pacific. During the winter. colder than the oceans. During some summers its mean position may not be as far north as usual. warmer oceans are well developed. Although the polar jet stream is the primary one. The mean position of the jet stream. as shown on a constant-pressure chart in the masses is sharp. shifts south in the winter and north in the summer with the seasonal migration of the polar front. . fast-flowing river of air polar front jet is referred to as the subtropical jet. Low pressure. during winters that are milder than normal. the warm and cold regions are reversed. masses. A seasonal High develops Those of interest to us are the Pacific High in in Siberia. jet. and of the earth's surface results in cells of high high-pressure centers are well developed over the pressure in the horse latitudes and cells of low oceans. The semi-permanent Lows over the Atlantic. and the belt of westerlies in which it is embedded. Some high. are produced by the centers will remain stationary and quite strong for uneven heating of the earth because of differences several days or weeks. embedded in the belt of westerlies. Over Southern Asia a continuous belts. the jet stream does not move as far south as usual. and this position reflects summers that are cooler than normal. The strength of these cells varies with the Semi-permanent Centers season.

. often extends into the Southeastern States. representing the summer months. high pressure in the horse latitude belt is not frequently observed over the land. In the winter the continents are colder than the oceans. The tracks of most surface Lows are also rather far north. and the intense heat in the Southwest forms the California Heat Low. Aloft. The Aleutian Low is not present in the Aleutian area. The tracks of polar Highs me similarly far north. The westerlies an weak and confined to a relatively narrow band. This means that the belt of westerlies. and the polar front are far north. The Icelandic Low is weak. these Lows usually travel eastward through Southern Canada or the Northern States. The Pacific High and the Azores-Bermuda High are strong and rather far north as compared to their winter positions. because of the comparative warmth of the land. The intense summer heat over the dry Southwest forms a low-pressure area known as the California Heat Low. pressure is generally low over the continent. the Azores-Bermuda High The average July sea-level pressure pattern. the circumpolar vortex is small. stagnating air to form high-pressure 81 cells over the continents while lower pressure exists over the oceans. and there is a tendency for lower pressure over the continents and relatively higher pressure over the adjacent oceans. the jet stream. and there is tendency for the denser. However. Temperature contrasts between equatorial and polar regions are smaller in summer than in winter. and the resulting air motion is slow compared to winter. Pressure gradients are weak. but low pressure is found over Northeastern Siberia. A few travel northeastward through the Southern and Eastern States or along the Atlantic coast. The Icelandic Low is weak. In summer the continents are warmer than the oceans. Let us consider the summer and winter patterns over North America and the adjacent means in more detail. In the summer. shows the Pacific and Bermuda Highs as being strong and rather far north.

The Aleutian Low extends from the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska. around the Icelandic Low produces northerly winds and frigid weather in the eastern section of the continent. Aloft. dry weather. moist are rather for north. A few Lows travel northeastward along the tropical air. The coldest Highs in North America Atlantic coast. bringing polar or arctic air to the rest of the continent. Along the Pacific coast. particularly at higher latitudes. moist air carried to the mast by northwest winds. shows that the Aleutian and Icelandic Lows are of this low-pressure system or segments of the well developed. representing the winter pattern. moisture from the Gulf is effectively cut off. these high-pres. The Pacific and Bermuda Highs are weaker and displaced farther south in winter than in summer. The strong circulation the cold continent. Temperature contrasts between the tropics and polar regions are greater. During winter. The circulation around the western and of the Azores . When this High extends far westward across the Gulf States. the circumpolar vortex is large. sure cells move southward. and the East has hot. The Pacific and Bermuda Highs are weaker and main cell which break off and move south and farther south than in summer. Due to the intense cooling of land areas. come from the Hudson The strong Azores-Bermuda High and Pacific High have a pronounced influence on summer weather in certain regions. 82 . Periodically. moist tropical air from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico into most of the Eastern and Central United States. and the wind circulations. Stormy weather is produced In the summer the preferred tracks of migratory Lows and Highs where these cold outbreaks meet warm. The belt of westerlies is broad. causing seasonal Highs such as the Great Basin High and the artic High to form. The tracks of Highs and Lows vary considerably. the Pacific High blocks most Lows and forces them far to the north. and much stormy weather and precipitation in the Western States are associated with the movement The average January sea-level pressure pattern. Pressure us generally high over southeast. produces a very stable condition and results in dry summer weather along the coast.Bermuda High (Bermuda High for short) brings warm. The eastern end of the Pacific High is a region of subsiding air aloft. The mean position of the polar front is farther south than in the summer. This subsiding air. are cor- respondingly stronger. extending to much lower latitudes. the Aleutian and Icelandic Lows are well developed. both aloft and at the surface. but many take tracks that are much farther south in winter than in summer. which overlays a shallow layer of cool. mostly across Southern Canada or the Northern States. many cold high- pressure mass develop over the northern half of the continent.

p. They lose intensity rapidly if spouts that develop from the cloud downward 83 . reaching maximum development in the Great Lakes or St. Dry winds. Periodically. Water- low-pressure systems. Hurricanes cover a vast area and are quite deep. They originate over warm ocean water in the Tornadoes and waterspots are small low- doldrums or in waves in the subtropical easterlies. Another wintertime feature is the Great Basin High. Frequently. Tornadoes range are caught up in the belt of westerlies. This Low is usually accompanied by strong winds and rain or snow. In winter. When they occur. pressure cells in the form of intense spinning and produce heavy precipitation and powerful vertexes. or eye. warmed adiabatically as air flows from higher to lower elevations-including the cast winds of Washington and Oregon. Winds near the center feed these systems through the condensation of of a tornado are commonly 100 to 200 m. The Low fills Highs move in from the Pacific as break off cells on the west side of the mountains. the east side and resumes its eastward movement. they are associated winds. The great destruction of comparatively clear skies at the center.p. then reforms on from the Pacific High. Hurricanes first move toward the west in and the explosive effects of a sudden reduction in the easterly flow and later usually turn north and pressure as the tornado passes. SPECIAL CYCLONIC SYSTEMS Hurricanes. Cool air masses from either Canada or the Northern Pacific move into the Great Basin and tend to stagnate in this intermountain area.000 feet in diameter and travel over take on the characteristics of middle-latitude the ground with a speed of 20 to 40 m.h. Pacific Highs move eastward across the continent. and Santa Ana winds in southern California are associated with the track and positioning of the Great Basin High. but and continue in an easterly direction along a path often stagnate for a time in the Great basin. friction and the loss of the continuous supply of moisture. Lawrence River area. north winds in northern California. A distinctive feature of these tropical may exceed 400 m. The circulation system of this Low usually intensifies as it moves to the northeast.h. preferred tracks of migratory Lows and Highs are farther south than in summer. A migratory low-pressure cell. curved toward the northeast. Large amounts of energy are released to with severe thunderstorms. tornadoes. called the Colorado Low. often develops east of the central Rockies in winter. and waterspouts are they move over land because of the increased special forms of low-pressure systems. however. of these terrifying storms is due both to the high winds the stem.p.h. Bay region or Northwest Canada. a cold high-pressure Lows that reach the west coast from the Pacific cell moves southward from the Hudson Bay Region or Northwest Ocean sometimes move intact over the mountains Canada. The pressure near the storms is the virtually calm winds and center is extremely low. The passage of the Low is followed by northerly winds and a cold high-pressure area from the north moving into the Great Plains or Great Lakes region. while milder the track of the Low is discontinuous. They then from 500 to 2. and water vapor.

84 . cause the development of acts as a gigantic heat engine. equatorial regions and is cooled by radiation in the polar regions. along with circulations. The movement of the migratory systems latitudes largely in the form of outbreaks of cold is closely related to the meanderings of the belt of polar air. primary circulation and by large-scale atmospheric others are migratory and produce rapid weather eddies. Secondary circulations develop because of With this background information on the unequal heating of land and water masses. Usually they are not as intense as tornadoes are weak compared to tornadoes. Other "fair weather" rapidly waterspouts develop from the water upward. which. The atmosphere is characteristic circulations around Highs and Lows heated by the sun-warmed surfaces in the and other pressure patterns. we are now in turn. and dissipate SUMMARY In this chapter we have considered the the apparent force due to the earth's rotation and broadscale circulation of the atmosphere. The that occur within the framework of the larger pressure gradients thus produced. cause the development of high and ready to consider smaller. Cool air moves from polar regions to low changes. westerly winds aloft and of the jet stream imbedded in it. Heat is transported from the Some Highs and Lows are semi-permanent equatorial regions to the polar regions by the features of the pressure distribution over the earth. occurring over land. which other forces. when they move inland. primary and secondary circulation. more local wind systems low-pressure cells in the atmosphere.are simply tornadoes occurring over the water.

are strongly affected by the shape of the topography and by local heating and cooling. It aids fire spread by carrying heat and burning embers to new fuels. in the case of wildfire. particularly near the earth's surface. Once a fire is started. wind is the most variable and the least predictable. and the burning plan. wind aids combustion by increasing the oxygen supply. It carries away moisture-laden air and hastens the drying of forest fuels. Wind affects wildfire in many ways. Winds. . This accounts for much of their variability and is the reason why there is no substitute for an adequate understanding of local wind behavior. and by bending the flames closer to the unburned fuels ahead of the fire. The direction of fire spread is determined mostly by the wind direction. must be based largely on the expected winds. elements affecting wildland fire behavior are wind and fuel moisture. in the case of prescribed fire. or weather related. Light winds aid certain firebrands in igniting a fire. Of the two. Chapter 6 GENERAL WINDS The two most important weather. Thus the fire control plan.

and gustiness or turbulence. Direction is also In this chapter we will consider local winds that described in degrees of azimuth from north-a are produced by the broadscale pressure gradients northeast wind is 45°. Ordinarily only the horizontal components of direction and speed are measured and reported. Wind is air in motion relative to the earth's surface. of the earth. They vary in speed and direction as the synoptic-scale Highs and Lows develop. a related to both. with more elaborate instruments. GENERAL WINDS The atmosphere is in continuous motion. while in field practice turbulence is ordinarily expressed in qualitative or relative terms. and the secondary circulations around high. and we will discuss them north wind blows from the north toward the south. Thus. purposes. In the next chapter. surface wind direction is determined by a wind vane mounted on a mast and pointing In this chapter and the next we will investigate into the wind. we should remember that winds the previous chapter we considered the large scale can also have an appreciable vertical motions-the primary circulation resulting from the component which will influence fire behavior. Its principal characteristics are its direction. Wind direction and speed are usually measured and expressed quantitatively. a separately. The direction can be determined the local wind-the wind that the man on the ground visually or. but northwest wind 315°. however. and decay. we will consider local winds produced by local temperature differences. northeast wind from the northeast. but the distinction here is that the pressure gradients produced by local temperature differences are of such a small scale that they cannot be detected and diagnosed on ordinary synoptic-scale weather charts. it can can measure or feel. Cer- tainly all winds are produced by pressure gradients. and so on around the points of the compass. Why does it persist or change be indicated on a dial or recorded on a chart. and this is adequate for most A wind vane indicates wind direction by pointing into the wind-the direction from which the wind blows. and a which are shown on synoptic weather maps. We will call these general winds. In fire 86 . under the heading of convective winds. In weather. may be modified considerably by friction or other topographic effects. observations.and low-pressure areas produced by unequal At weather stations making regular weather heating and cooling of land and water masses. move. or is it produced or modified by local Wind direction is ordinarily expressed as the influences? We find that local winds may be direction from which the wind blows. unequal heating of the equatorial and polar regions particularly in mountainous topography. a south wind 180°. as it does? Is it related to the general circulation patterns. speed.

Similarly. surface winds. azimuth angles. Here it is common to express the wind direction as the direction toward which the wind is headed. though.15 miles per hour. yields quite accurate upper-air determined most commonly by tracking an information. Many types of anemometers are in use. periodic weather stations across the continent. The method of describing the direction of both surface winds and winds aloft. If a constant sampled at regular intervals each day at selected rate of rise of the balloon is assumed. In mountain country. while miles further addition of a self-tracking. given time period. 87 . moisture. per hour). gas-filled balloon from the surface up soundings for meteorological use and through the atmosphere. All of these methods furnish wind ascending. by the direction from which the wind blows. or across the ridges. radio per hour is still in common use in many other direction-finding unit that measures elevation and agencies and operations. ascent) is added to the balloon. but the most common is the cup anemometer. an upslope or upcanyon wind is actually headed up the slope or up the canyon. This unit. wind speed is usually calculated fairly accurately. Thus. It indicates either the air speed at any given instant Horizontal wind speed is measured by the rate of rotation of a cup or the miles of air that pass the instrument in a anemoter. "offshore" or "onshore" are used to describe the directions toward which land and sea breezes are blowing. One knot is 1. and the computed measured in miles per hour or knots (nautical miles winds are more accurate. theodolite allow computation of average wind Although winds aloft tend to be more uniform than direction and speed between balloon positions. including fire weather. Weather Bureau and military weather agencies use The most refined of present systems has the knots for both surface and upper winds. If a radiosonde unit (which transmits wind speed is measured is 20 feet above open temperature. known as a The direction and speed of winds aloft are rawinsonde. and pressure data during ground. The simplest system employs a pilot balloon The speed and direction of upper winds are followed visually with a theodolite. there are exceptions. and slant range from the observing station to the balloon. Surface wind speeds are measured with anemometers. The latter gives an average wind for the selected time period. Normally. Wind is described as blowing along the slopes. a 2-minute ascent rate is not constant because of vertical air average is used. through the passes. The standard height at which currents. is ordinarily very practical. The wind Errors are introduced when the structure over an area some distance from a sampling station may differ considerably from that indicated by the nearest sounding. interpretation. the height of the balloon at the time of each reading can be In the United States. surface wind direction with respect to the topography is often more important in fire control and provides a better description of local winds than the compass direction. These readings of elevation and azimuth angles with the stations are often more than 100 miles apart.

but a deep layer can be affected if the air is relatively unstable. and gusts. Usually the friction layer is considered to be The wind direction at surface stations may differ widely from the about 2. The top of the friction layer windflow above the friction layer.000 feet deep. aloft the direction fluctuating rapidly. The depth may also vary with the stability of the lower atmosphere. blows parallel to the isobars. MECHANICAL AND THERMAL TURBULENCE either mechanical or thermal in We learned in the previous chapter that friction with the earth's surface slows down the wind and results in changes of direction so that the surface wind blows at an angle across the isobars from high to low pressure. The amount of reduction in speed and change of direction depends upon the roughness of the earth's surface. At the top of the friction layer the wind contours. whirls. 88 . These effects vary widely both with time and between localities. it is shallower over smooth surfaces and deeper over rough topography. The depth of the air layer through which the frictional force is effective also varies with the roughness of the surface. It follows then that the effect of friction is least over smooth water and greatest over mountainous topography. nature. which may be Surf ace friction produces mechanical turbu- lence in the airflow. as shown by this weather map. while surface heating causes thermal turbulence in the airflow. A low inversion will confine the frictional effect to a shallow surface layer. The flow of stable air Roughness creates mechanical turbulence. At the surface. This irregular air it is associated with "bumpy" flying. as shown by the large arrow. Surface winds often vary considerably in both speed and direction over short intervals of time. The number of barbs on the tail tends to parallel the isobars or Pressure-surface represent the wind speed. Surface wind direction is indicated on weather maps by a wind is the gradient wind level above which the windflow arrow flying with the wind. turbulence is commonly They tend to blow in a series of gusts and lulls with identified in terms of eddies. motion is known as turbulence.

Unstable mechanical turbulence in its effects on surface air warmed at the surface rises to mix and flow winds. and other obstacles. along with the winds above. 89 . thermal also brings air with higher wind speeds-greater turbulence increases with the intensity of surface momentum-from aloft down to the surface. Turbulence is most pronounced in early afternoon when surface heating is maximum and the lower layers of air are unstable. At low speeds the currents of air tend to In the early afternoon when surface heating is at a follow the general contours of the landscape. usually heating and the degree of instability indicated by in spurts and gusts. but extends higher in the atmosphere. It therefore increases the aver- On clear days over flat terrain. and sets up eddies in all directions. and thermal turbulence frequently occur together. thermal turbulence. It is similar to between the surface and the winds aloft. Mechanical and ridges.near the surface is similar to the flow of water in a shows diurnal changes. principal mechanism by which energy is exchanged stability and convective activity. Mechanical each magnifying the effects of the other. shows diurnal changes because of day heating and night cooling. turbulence increases with both wind speed and the Thermal turbulence induced by the com- roughness of the surface. This momentum exchange the temperature lapse rate. and is most pronounced creekbed. This turbulent flow Since it is the result of surface heating. and least pronounced during the night and early morning when air is stable. But maximum and the air is unstable in the lower when the speed increases-as when a creek layers. as indicated by the fluctuations in wind speed and direction. bination of convection and horizontal wind is the Thermal turbulence is associated with in. structures. trees. It is at a minimum during the night and early rises-the current "tumbles" over and around hills morning when the air is more stable.

it is usual to obstruction. The distance Eddies form as air flows over and around obstacles. whirlwind or dust devil is a vertical eddy. They vary with the size and shape of the obstacle. the speed and direction of the wind. mechanical and thermal turbulent flow. usually in spurts and gusts. Every solid roughly cylindrical eddies that roll along the surface object in the wind path creates eddies on its lee like tumbleweeds are horizontal eddies. A places are stronger in the afternoon than at night. the speed and direction of the wind. Large. as are eddies produced around the corners of buildings or Eddy formation is a common characteristic of both at the mouths of canyons with steep sides. Although in the lee of the obstruction. and motions of the eddies are determined by the size and shape of the Eddies associated with individual fixed obstructions obstacle. . side. The sizes. new ones form near the of rotation in virtually any plane. shapes. age wind speed near the surface and decreases it distinguish between those which have aloft. This mixing brings higher wind speeds from aloft down to the surface. and the stability of the lower atmosphere. It is the reason why surface winds at most predominantly vertical or horizontal axes. If they break off and eddies may form in the atmosphere with their axes move downstream. Thermal turbulence caused by surface heating is a mechanism by which energy is exchanged between the surface and he flow aloft. and tend to remain in a more-or-less stationary position the stability of the lower atmosphere.

with mechanical anemometers. one layer seeming to slide over the next. turbulence is minor example. It is frequently observed over open plains and gently rolling topography. develop speeds capable of lifting sizable and. on occasion. such as a windbreak. except where stationary eddies are found. Whirlwinds. each at night. for all practical purposes. It may carry burning embers by the airflow near the surface. The air flows smoothly along. Eddies moving with the general windflow have the steady speed and direction characteristic account for the principal short-term changes in wind of laminar motion. The air flows smoothly the burned area. For most or near-laminar flow occurs in stable air moving at obstructions. Laminar flow is behavior and firespread in many directions. Airflow aloft may help or hinder the development of deep 91 . likely to result in spread in one direction. WINDS AILOFT Wildland fires of low intensity may be affected only convection columns. greater than the average wind speeds measured following the topography and varying little in speed. the laminar type The absence of turbulence-a steady even may result in more rapid and sustained fire spread flow-is called laminar flow. cause more erratic fire behavior. speeds are often of short duration at any point. The winds aloft may be greatly different in becomes important as an influence on fire speed and direction from the surface winds. While turbulent winds usually speed and direction known as gustiness.downwind that an obstacle. the general rule of thumb is that this low speeds. successive thin layer sliding over the next. These higher Vertical mixing is negligible. such as we might find in a Rotation speeds in eddies are often much nighttime inversion. but. The nature of the wind during a wildfire is shown by the shape of In laminar flow there is little mixing. for fire situations. but are True laminar flow is probably rare in wildland still significant in fire behavior. Turbulent winds usually cause more erratic fire along. down an incline. It is characteristic of cold air flowing distance is 8 to 10 times the height of the obstacle. surface winds do objects. while laminar flow is characteristic of cold air flowing down an incline. But when the rate which ignite spot fires some distance from the main of combustion increases. The term suggests air in one direction. Laminar affects the windstrearn is variable. behavior. the upper airflow fire. Laminar flow is most likely to occur moving along in flat sheets or layers.

there is a transition in both speed and direction from the surface to the top of the friction layer. Marked changes in either wind speed or di- Local winds-aloft profiles commonly fall into rection between atmospheric layers often occur one or another of several general types. With strong stratification the wind Wind speeds and directions aloft in a stratified atmosphere may direction may change abruptly from one layer to the vary from one layer to the next. The motion. The winds aloft above the mixing layer are more steady in speed and direction. At progressively higher altitudes. There is no sharp sepa- ration between them. there may be gradual changes in the distribution of Highs and Lows. Pressure systems higher in the troposphere may differ markedly from those near the surface. or motion. The depth of this friction or mixing layer is. the layers often directions. A common cause of stratification in the is the change of speed or direction with height. as we saw when we considered the effects of friction dependent upon the roughness of the terrain and the intensity of heating or cooling at the surface. but rather a blending of one into the other. we separate winds into surface winds and winds aloft. In ascending from the surface through the lower atmosphere. Usually. Thus. Wind shear in this case altitude. One profile is characteristic of wind speed against height- of a well-mixed atmosphere without distinct layers. wind direction at adjacent levels tends to be flowing in nearly opposite directions may produce uniform. the relative speeds of two air currents layer. Winds aloft are those measured with airborne equipment from the surface layer up to the limit of our interest. In the of the upper air might indicate only nominal air absence of marked stratification above the friction speeds. The with an inversion which damps or prevents vertical accompanying illustrations show four types. Furthermore. These changes produce different wind speeds and directions in the separate layers. We think of surface winds as those winds measured with instruments mounted on surface-borne masts or towers. tops being blown off growing cumulus differ in temperature. which is also called the mixing layer. sharply and change direction are common indicators of wind shear and disrupted vertical Wind Profiles circulation patterns. The difference in direction may be anywhere directions according to the compass card in the upper left. or in any clouds. and rising smoke columns that break off combination of these. closed pressure systems are fewer. it is common for the troposphere to be stratified or layered. even though the speed may change with strong wind shear effects. The arrows indicate horizontal next. whether it is convection over a fire or soundings were taken on different days at one natural circulation in the formation of cumulus station and reveal some characteristic differences clouds. In another. moisture. lower troposphere is the overriding or underrunning Clouds at different levels moving in different of one air mass by another. wind shear 92 . With height. Even though a wind speed profile-a plot in winds-aloft patterns. but they do change as pressure centers move and change in intensity. from a few degrees to complete reversal.

the major mountain chains tend ing. is characteristic of a well-mixed atmosphere. above lowland night inversions may occasionally be is found in a region of abrupt change in wind speed. however. this strongly suggests a greater summer fire season of the mountainous West. Strong summer surface heating a night inversion. The probability of occurrence at night than during the East experiences more frequent and rapid day. A jet within the marine inversion and in another wind shear is the result of a sharp in the San Francisco Bay area is a frequent change in direction.A wind profile without abrupt changes in wind speed or direction Wind shear occurs where wind speeds change abruptly. near the surface with relatively low wind speeds above. For example. FRONTAL WINDS Low-level jets are predominantly Great Plains phenomena although they do occur in other areas. The geographic extent over which a fourth is the occurrence of a low-level jet wind low-level jet might occur has not been determined. these jets have been observed and to lift winds associated with them above much to reach maximum speeds in the region just above of the topography. An interesting feature of the occurrence. In the West. and encouraged by cooling from the surface at both to hinder the movement of Highs and Lows night. They have not been studied in also diminishes the surface effects of these rough mountain topography. Stratification in the first few thousand feet is movement of pressure systems than occur in the discouraged by daytime heating and thermal mix. the higher changes. in eastern portions of the continent than during the In fair weather. West. peaks and ridges 93 . The variability of general surface winds during A layered structure of the lower few thousand feet the spring and fall fire seasons is somewhat greater of the atmosphere appears to favor their formation. subjected to them.

the intervening warm air is that fronts lie in troughs of low pressure. This The frontal boundary between these two air masses is means that as a trough. If a cold front by a shift in wind direction. the boundary is called a cold front. boundary between two air masses of differing Fronts are most commonly thought of in temperature and moisture characteristics. weather. and the air mass behind the in the previous chapter that the isobars in a trough are cold front meets the air mass ahead of the warm front. we are concerned only with the the change from one to another at any given point is general surface winds that accompany frontal marked by the passage of a front. passes a par- then called an occlusion or occluded front. A front is the passages. Where a behavior. warm air mass is replacing a cold air mass. and their associated . Here. its air masses and fronts. But front depends upon the movement of the air masses. the winds accompanying the frontal Where a cold air mass is replacing a warm air passage may be particularly significant to fire mass. As successive air masses move across the land. Plains. the The passage of a front is usually accompanied boundary is called a warm front. curved cyclonically in the Northern Hemisphere. The wind behavior during the frontal passage In chapter 8 we will consider in detail the kinds of depends upon the type of front. Shear layers Low-level jets occur predominately in night wind profiles in the usually indicates that the atmosphere is stratified into layer.A sharp change in direction also causes wind shear. We learned lifted from the surface. In these instances. The type of association with precipitation and thunderstorms. ticular location the wind direction shifts clockwise. The jet is found most frequently just above the night inversion. occasionally fronts will cause neither. with its front. The reason for this is overtakes a warm front. but they may also occur elsewhere.

the continue for some time after the frontal passage. Ahead of a cold occlusion is warmer or colder than the air ahead. become gusty and shift As a warm front passes. Steady great. Most common in Winds increase ahead of a cold front. If cold air aloft overruns warm air In the area east of the Rockies. usually from a southwesterly to a northwesterly usually from a southeasterly to a southwesterly direction. This is particularly true in the 90°. and tend to become diffuse. however. The change in because the cooler air flowing over warmer ground wind direction usually amounts to between 45° and tends to be unstable. squall lines ahead of the front at the surface. 95 . more erratic. both before and relatively gentle. the resulting often precede cold fronts. The wind Warm-front passages in the mountainous West are generally shifts from a southerly direction to a fewer. however. because the The wind shift accompanying the passage of layer of air next to the ground is generally stable. The wind change is usually sharp resembles that of a warm front or cold front. or north. wind is steady and shifts gradually. an occluded front is usually 90° or more. is usually absent with typically increases in speed and often becomes an occluded frontal passage. therefore. abruptly. the surface wind ahead of After the front has passed. as the front passes. even when the air is so dry that few if depending upon whether the air behind the any clouds accompany the front.speed. As the front approaches. the wind direction is a warm front usually blows from a southeasterly or usually west. after the warm front goes by. and distinct. quite gusty. With the frontal passage. the spring months. The wind shift with an occlusion a warm front. to the cold front. These are narrow zones instability may cause violent turbulence in the of instability that usually form ahead of and parallel frontal zone. the contrast in temperature of the air The wind shift with the passage of a cold front is masses involved. after the frontal passage are the rule. northwest. rather than gusty winds. front. the wind cold-front passage. the surface wind is usually from the south or The violent turbulence that may accompany a southwest. 180°. East of the Rockies. If the temperature contrast is not wind commonly blows from the southwest. and upon local conditions of abrupt and may be less than 45° or as much as surface heating and topography. direction. the winds soon become steady and winds. westerly or northwesterly direction as the occlusion The passage of a cold front differs from that of passes. Gustiness may southerly direction. wind gradually shifts clockwise.

gusty winds ordinarily do not last long. generally from a southerly to a westerly or northwesterly direction. This wind behavior distinguishes a squall line from a cold front. cold air of polar friction to the general surface airflow. origin and relatively cool Pacific marine air. EFFECTS OF MOUNTAIN TOPOGRAPHY Mountains represent the maximum degree of Mountain chains are also effective as solid barriers surface roughness and thus provide the greatest against airflow – particularly dry. The strong. behavior without the fire-quenching benefit of heavy rain. and tend to die out during late night or early morning. squall lines are associated with severe lightning storms in the Midwest and may have extremely violent surface winds. and the winds soon revert to the speed and direction they had prior to the squall. They increase to 30. 96 . the spring and summer. 40. usually for a few minutes. But occasionally the storms are scattered along the line so that any one The wind shift accompanying the passage of an occluded front is local area might experience squall-line wind usually 90° or more. move rapidly. or even 60 miles per hour. and become extremely gusty as the squall line passes. Squall lines produce violently turbulent winds. Winds ahead of the squall are usually from a southerly direction. Squall lines are usually accompanied by thunderstorms and heavy rain. shift to the west or northwest. They usually develop quickly in the late afternoon or night.

Deep gorges in mountain ranges channel surface airflow. Less-prominent features of the landscape have similar. and turbulence. and most of the eddies formed are of the roll or horizontal type. large frictional effects may cause surface or less. gradient balance may not be established and winds of considerable speed may blow almost directly across isobars from higher to lower pressure. winds blowing over the surface are influenced by every irregularity. In short. How the air behaves on crossing a ridge is influenced by ridge shape and wind speed and direction. Airflow is guided by the topography into the principal drainage channels.While warm. In addition to these mechanical effects. direction. in other planes. Sharp ridges. surface wind directions have only a small angle across the isobars. vertical eddies are likely to be found in the winds to blow almost directly across the isobars from high to low lee draws below the ridgetop. light air may be forced aloft and flow over the ranges. heavy air is often either dammed or deflected by major mountain systems. 97 . If the air is stable. on the other hand. it will increase in speed as it crosses the ridge. though smaller scale. daytime convective activity in mountain areas often alters or replaces the general wind at the surface. Over short distances and rough topography. nearly always produce significant turbulence and numerous eddies on the lee side. though much of it continues downwind aloft. perhaps 30° Over rough topography. Wind blowing perpendicular to the ridge line develops the least complex wind structure downwind. strong at the surface in the absence of strong heating. If the angle of wind approach deviates from the perpendicular by some critical amount. local mechanical effects on wind speed. This type of flow is particularly noticeable in the strong pressure-gradient region of a Santa Ana pattern. such as over water. Winds of this nature are common in both coastal and inland mountain regions. Some of this is evident at the surface as gusts and eddies for short distances below the ridgetop. cool. General winds blowing across mountain ridges General winds are most pronounced are lifted along the surface to the gaps and crests. Where friction is less. in addition to eddies pressure. Mountains and their associated valleys provide important channels that establish local wind direction. Ridgetop winds thus tend to be somewhat stronger than winds in the free air at the same level. Round-topped ridges tend to disturb surface airflow the least. In light to moderate winds there is often little evidence of any marked turbulence.

Airflow crossing a ridge is influenced by the ridge shape and by Higher wind speeds and sharp ridges cause turbulence and the wind speed and direction. there may be no marked turbulence. An upslope wind may be observed at the surface on the lee side. If the to that flowing over the rim. . air on the lee side is protected from the moderate to strong upslope wind opposite in direction direct force of the wind flowing over the rim. common in Large roll eddies are typical to the lee of bluffs or canyon rims. In light to moderate winds. Eddies of this nature are wind is persistent. stationary roll eddy. the least. it may start to rotate the air below and form and similarly shaped canyon rims. When a bluff faces a large. Rounded hills disturb wind flow eddies on the lee side. Eddy currents are often associated with bluffs however. This often results in a downwind.

One takes the form of horizontal eddies rolling or tumbling down the lee slope or canyon. lifted by the wind ridgetop. Alternating tributaries and lateral ridges Eddies form where strong flow through canyons. Favorite places produce maximum roughness. and beneath the rims of plateaus and canyon walls. The flow converges and the wind speed increases in the passes. over the mountain range. Horizontal and vertical form on the lee side of saddles. canyon bottom is straight or crooked also has an important influence on the turbulence to be Mountain Waves expected. The other is usually a stationary vertical eddy in one of the sheltered areas on either side of the saddle. with an accompanying increase in wind speed. Some of these vertical eddies may also move on downwind. 99 . although the main eddy may be stationary. After passing through mountain saddles. Sharp bends in mountain-stream courses are favorite "breeding grounds" for eddies. The moving air in canyons is in contact with a maximum area of land surfaces. The stable air. Ridgetop saddles and mountain passes form important channels for local pressure gradient winds.the lee of ridges that break off abruptly. is pulled Ridgetop saddles and mountain passes form important channels for general wind flow. Flow converges here as it does across ridgetops. General winds that are channeled in mountain canyons are usually turbulent. Moderate to strong winds in a stably stratified particularly where the canyon widens to admit a atmosphere blowing across high mountain ranges side tributary. Whether the are bends in the canyons and mouths of tributaries. the wind often exhibits two types of eddy motion on the lee side. Such eddies are most pronounced will cause large-scale mountain waves for many near the canyon floor and dissipate well below the miles downwind.

Such pressure patterns are most is still colder than the air it is replacing on the common to the cool months. it is called a foehn wind. We are concerned blow over the mountain ranges and descend the more with the warmer foehn. roll clouds will elsewhere. cap clouds will lesser scale appear in the Appalachians and form over the crest of the mountains. foehn winds leeward side. In most temperatures and the fact that the ground is often mountainous areas. because of its cold wind associated with mountain systems. The lee slope of the mountains may experi. wind is warm and dry. but at times there may be insufficient moisture to form clouds. downward by gravity on the lee side.000 feet or more in the well-known waves or standing waves. If the down flowing critical fire-weather situation. Waves may extend as downwind of the mountains are referred to as lee high as 40. so it rises again large roll eddy may be found with its axis parallel to farther downslope. The waves oscillation finally ceases. and wave clouds will be located in the tops of the ence strong downslope winds or many eddies of waves. Inertia carries each wave downstream from the mountain range. Large-scale waves occur in the Rocky Mountains. Considerable turbulence and strong updrafts and downdrafts are found on the lee side. Crests of waves may be marked by lens-shaped wave clouds. The The development of a foehn wind requires a wind is called a bora or fall wind if the air is strong high-pressure system on one side of a originally so cold that even after it is warmed mountain range and a corresponding Low or trough adiabatically in flowing down the mountain slopes it on the other side. local winds are observed that mow-covered when it occurs. Within FOEHN WINDS Foehn winds represent a special type of local important in this discussion. be found in the tops of the roll eddies downstream. a the air past its equilibrium level.Mountain waves form when strong winds blow perpendicular to mountain ranges. which creates a most slopes on the leeward side. Roll eddies tend to be smaller series of lesser waves downstream until the in each succeeding wave downstream. This oscillatory motion forms a the mountain range. and waves on a If sufficient moisture is present. therefore. Bishop wave in California. The been rarely occurs in North are more frequent in the period from September America and is not through April than . various sizes which roll down the slope.

type. it is cooled dry-adiabatically until the the Western United States during the fall. the air arrives as a strong. On the leeward side of the mountains. Depending on its location. depending on the pressure pattern and on the the same air loses additional moisture and may the summer months. migrating Highs passing through the Great Basin. the strong pressure gradient will cause air to flow across the mountains. If a low pressure center or trough is located on the opposite side of the barrier. and cooling at the location of related Lows or troughs. usually stagnated high-pressure air mass restricted by mountain barriers. and it is replaced by the air flowing from aloft on the windward side and descending to the lowland on Foehn winds are known by different names in different parts of the mountains West. In each case. wind periods. gradual weakening after the first day or two. is lost to the air mass. gusty. low pressure in the Sacramento Valley causes In descending to the lowlands on the leeward side north winds in northern California. Upon descending the westward across the Oregon and Washington leeward slopes. and produces clouds and precipitation. slopes. Since the mountains block the flow of surface air. If this air mass is then moved eastward by a favorable pressure gradient and replaced by a warm descending foehn. exhibits mild foehn characteristics on the eastern sharply defined belt cutting through the lee-side air. Sometimes. it stops very abruptly. the airflow must come from aloft. the air mass warms first at the Cascades and the northern and central Sierra moist-adiabatic rate until its clouds are evaporated. dry. A combination of at lower elevations both warmer and drier than it high pressure over the State of Washington and was at corresponding levels on the windward side. may result from desiccating wind. Moist Pacific air forced across the Sierra . The course of the foehn may be either on a Cascade range loses some of its moisture and front many miles wide or a relatively narrow. produce a well-developed foehn on the eastern slopes in that region. a Great the lesser moist adiabatic rate. abrupt local temperature rises are experienced. Brief foehn of the range. Forced across the Rocky Mountain range. Surface wind speeds of 40 to 60 pressure area on the windward side of the mountains to a low- miles per hour are common in foehn flow of this pressure area on the leeward side. condensation level is reached. or southwestward across the Coast Then it warms at the dry-adiabatic rate and arrives Ranges in southern California. Further lifting and spring months. Nevada. even though it may be warm. lasting 1 or 2 days. winter. The air above the surface high-pressure system is subsiding air and is therefore dry and potentially quite warm. surface air is forced away by the strong pressure gradient. Two types of foehn winds The wind often lasts for 3 days or more. The water vapor Basin High may create foehn winds which move that has condensed and fallen out as precipitation eastward across the northern and central Rockies. The Plains east of the A foehn. Foehn winds of the first type result when a deep layer of moist air is forced upward and across High-pressure areas composed of cool air a mountain range. often Rockies are often under the influence of a cold air replaces cooler air on the lee side of the mass of Canadian origin in the cooler months. As the air ascends the masses frequently stagnate in the Great Basin of windward side. and speeds up to 90 miles per hour have been reported 101 . The second type of fusion is related to a cold. air is flowing from a high- the leeward side. with are common in our western mountains.

At mountain waves. often replaces cold cooler air and thus not be felt at the surface at continental air in Alberta and the Great Plains. stays in the bottoms because of its greater density. The change in wavelength and other times virtually all areas are affected.mountains. sometimes flow only part way down the strong surface winds on the lee slopes. amplitude can account for the observed periodic North and Mono winds in northern and central surfacing and lifting of foehn flow. the foehn will override it. replace it. or at scattered evaporation are characteristic. within a few minutes are common in A second mechanism is the mountain wave Chinooks. for foehn flow will follow the surface and produce example. a foehn wind on the eastern however. Relative humidities dropping to 5 from the mountains so that the warm foehn can percent or less and temperature changes of 30°F. North winds develop if a High passes air crossing the ridge. Surfacing often California develop as a High moves into the Great develops shortly after dark as cooling stabilizes the Basin. Counterforces sometimes prevent this. The Chinook. If the cold air is points. The wavelength and wave amplitude Along the Pacific coast a weak foehn may be depend upon the strength of the flow bearing kept aloft by cool marine air flowing onshore. well-developed foehn may in which the wave may be embedded. phenomenon. When these cut through all local influences and affect all slope factors are favorable for producing waves which and valley surfaces from the highest crest to the correspond to the shape of the mountain range. At other times the foehn may Quick wintertime thawing and rapid snow reach the surface only intermittently. through Washington and Oregon A weak foehn may override cooler air on the lee side of the mountains. causing short-period fluctuations in local held in place by the local pressure and circulation weather. East winds in the Pacific Northwest. One is a favorable pressure gradient acting the Chinook may reach the surface only in the on the lee-side air in such a way as to move it away higher spots. the sea. and cause the foehn to override the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. 102 . There is lee slopes of the Cascades. to 40°F. and then level off evidence that strong downslope winds of the warm above the lowlands and strike only the higher foehn on lee slopes are always caused by peaks and ridges of the coastal mountains. On against the mountains and the stability of the layers the other hand. a strong. system. lower elevations. In these cases only the higher elevations are affected by the foehn flow. or if the cold air Two mechanisms come into play.

With nighttime cooling. and the valleys. This Typically in southern California during the depends upon the location of the low-pressure Santa Ana season. while a trough is located in the Sacramento Valley. bands of clear air can than 5 percent. A strong Santa Ana wind wipes out these found across the southern California mountains. and many eddies of various sizes are surface. The air initially to the lee of the mountains is either moved away from the mountains by a favorable pressure gradient or it is scoured out by a suitable mountain – wave shape in the foehn flow. these winds reverse develop with a High in the Great Basin. at times. "weak" and upon its mountain-wave characteristics. coastal mountains and proceed out to sea. Local circulations.A strong foehn may flow down the leeward side of the mountains brining warm and extremely dry air to lower elevations. particularly to areas away from Nevada. are predominant they will affect only the western slopes of the Sierra at lower elevations. there is a daytime onshore trough. and a strong pressure gradient is breeze. dry air to lower elevations. depending upon whether the Santa Ana is produced by topographic features. The strong winds. It is strongly channelled by the temperatures and humidities sometimes lower major passes. patterns. weather in a region of flashy fuels. At times the sea breeze and slope winds. Both North and Mono are foehn winds the strong. along with warm Ana varies widely. and upcanyon winds in the adjacent mountain The Santa Areas of southern California also areas. produce very serious fire be seen cutting through a region of limited visibility. dry winds. Mono winds occur after the High has reached the If the foehn flow is weak and remains aloft. providing there is a trough near the higher elevations in the mountains are affected by coast. the Santa the sea. The in direction to produce downcanyon and offshore low-pressure trough is located along the southern winds. usually of lesser magnitude than the daytime California coast. and basins on the ocean side. the surface of leeward slopes and valleys and on to slopes. and at other times they push across the the major passes. The foehn flow may surface and return aloft alternately in some foehn wind situations. "strong" or A strong Santa Ana. such as bringing warm. sweeping out the air 103 . The strong The flow coming over the tops of the ranges may flow crossing the mountains creates mechanical remain aloft on the lee side or drop down to the turbulence. and. It flows over the ridges and down along In the coastal mountains. These winds are most common in late breeze along the coast and gentle to weak upslope summer and fall. only the Great Basin.

etc. The Santa strike the surface and produce very strong winds Ana flow is held aloft. although The leaf canopy in a forest is very effective in zero at the very surface. disregarding the air flowing have the distinction of being somewhat pervious. it is Forests and other vegetated areas are satisfactory. Increasing air stability diurnal behavior. dense vegetation such as grass or brush. the effective friction surface as the average height tribute to air turbulence. During the daytime. to consider characteristically rough surfaces and thus con. the vegetation. winds peed increases much like above level ground. Wind speeds over open. for most weather purposes. In stands with an open trunk space. the surface winds reverse and become initial surge.ahead of it. EFFECTS OF VEGETATION Vegetation is part of the friction surface which Where the surface is covered with low-growing. important. a maximum in wind speed is likely in the trunk space and a minimum in the crown area. large friction area. determines how the wind blows Lear the ground. increase quite rapidly in slowing down wind movements because of its the first 20 feet above the ground. as well as airflow within and below the tree canopies is over and around. however. after its sunset. level ground. They also of the vegetation. In forests of shade-tolerant Vertical wind profiles in forest stands that the crown canopy is very effective in slowing down wind movement. allowing some air movement through. Above the crowns. In areas forested with trees. through it. waves to breeze may be observed along the coast and light change so that the lower portions of waves can upvalley winds in the coastal valleys. often shows little or no difference in day the water and is not as moist as marine air. . the local circulations become relatively air in the sea breeze may be returning Santa Ana stronger and finally the normal daily cycle is air. After and night behavior in its initial stages. a light sea may allow the shape of the mountain. the wind speed is nearly constant from just above the surface to near the tops of the crowns. But. The to weaken. and the mountain waves are down the lee slopes. As the Santa Ana continues not of proper dimensions to reach the surface. the Santa Ana begins to show a offshore and downslope. eddies. which has had only a short trajectory over resumed. In stands with an understory.

or in stands with understory vegetation. the forest may have only a small effect on the speed of the wind.p. adds to the complexity of these forest airflow speeds. The higher winds aloft cause the slower floor. or as measured out in the open away from the forest. wind speed increases much as it does over level ground.h.species where the canopy extends to near ground level. and then decreases again in the canopy zone.5-m. in an 80. Thermal turbulence is added to the leaf.p. it is far less than when the trees are in full patterns. and that on synoptic-scale weather maps. wind speed is nearly constant from just above the surface to near the tops of the crowns. while those in the lee of a forest are stocking. Wind blowing against the might be reduced to 4 . among different species and types of subeddies breaking off and moving downwind. At low wind speeds.h. because although trees bare of leaves Strong surface heating. The drag of any friction surface is relatively much greater at high wind speeds than it is with low speeds. wind measured in the open might be slowed to 2.p. Thermal turbulence on opposite to the direction above the treetops. Above the crowns. at the same Local eddies form in the lee of each tree stem and affect the height inside the forest. mostly larger and more fixed in location. This rising air is replaced by gentle inflow from The surface wind direction is then frequently surrounding shaded areas. stand often produces small transient eddies on the foot-tall stand of second-growth pine with normal windward side. wind associated with bluffs. For example. We have seen the amount of influence is largely 105 . How much the wind speed is reduced inside the forest depends on the detailed structure of the forest stand and on wind speed above the forest canopy. In forest stands that are open beneath the main tree canopy. air speed increases with height above the surface to the middle of the trunk space.or 5 – m. except where holes Larger scale eddies often form in forest let the sun strike bare ground or litter on the forest openings. the lee side of a forest stand may often be enough The edges of tree stands often cause roll to disguise or break up any roll eddies that tend to eddies to form in the same manner as those form. SUMMARY In this chapter we have discussed winds which that these general winds are strongly affected by are related to the large pressure patterns observed the type of surface over which they flow. are found in the lee of each tree stem. Deciduous forests have a further seasonal variation. sunny have a significant effect in limiting surface wind days. vertical axis. speed in the open will be slowed in the forest in much greater proportion.p. Thus. or roll over in a horizontal manner. with however. forest. These become hotspots over which there is a moving air in these openings to rotate about a general upwelling of warm air through the canopy. The reduction would vary considerably. But a fairly high wind behavior of surface fires. as on warm.h. a 4-m.h. slightly by thermal turbulence. generally turbulent flow through open timber stands Local eddies are common in forest stands and as it is to the flow above a closed forest canopy. These small The flow beneath a dense canopy is affected only eddies affect the behavior of surface fires. a 20-m.

however. or laminar. Santa Ana. whirlwinds. to be smooth. winds. These winds have local names. strong . over sharp wind systems as mountain and valley winds. Surface winds in the Northern Hemisphere tend to shift clockwise with the passage of fronts. such as full of eddies. and. Chinook. waves form and sea breezes. land crests. eddies are produced. and are the cause of very severe fire weather. if conditions are favorable. and include such this. In In the next chapter we will consider local winds mountainous topography. the air.. Unstable air or strong the air warms adiabatically and foehn winds are winds flowing over rough surfaces is turbulent and produced. They mountains on the windflow usually overshadows are called convective winds. Stable air flowing over even surfaces tends When the airflow is from higher to lower elevations. the effect of the which result from local heating and cooling. etc. At times.dependent on the wind speed and the stability of surface winds are experienced on the lee side. and. The windflow is channelled. and thunderstorm over mountains.

Certainly there will be times when the convective winds will be severely altered or completely obliterated by a strong general wind flow. and their patterns known. Those burning in mountain valleys will be influenced by the locally produced valley and slope winds. Chapter 7 CONVECTIVE WINDS Winds of local origin—convective winds caused by local temperature differences—can be as important in fire behavior as the winds produced by the synoptic-scale pressure pattern. If their interactions are understood. 107 . Fires occurring along a coastline will react to the changes in the land and sea breezes. the changes in behavior of wildfires can be predicted with reasonable accuracy. must be recognized. These cases. In many areas they are the predominant winds in that they overshadow the general winds. in which the influences of the general winds on fire behavior will predominate.

Simultaneous measurements may among these are the land and sea breezes found show significant horizontal temperature grad. Most familiar behavior. Superheated air may escape also in the varies with the strength of the general wind. Since they are Air that is cooled near the surface almost temperature-dependent. local circulation in the fair approximations of the temperature lapse atmosphere is often dominated by winds resulting rate and associated stability or instability. wherein convection implies or is released by mechanical triggering. the posed. or bare layer. cloud cover. if it should meet colder air beneath it. nature of the terrain downflowing air spreads out on top of the colder and its cover such as water. or eliminated by airflow having its origin in bubbles grow by expansion and by mixing with the larger pressure systems. Buoyant air readings. The nature and strength of convective winds vary with many other factors. The influence of these surrounding air. air which is cooled tends to sink. and the moisture and temperature structure of the overlying atmosphere. winds—up. its form of upward-spiraling whirlwinds or dust direction relative to the convective circulation. and devils. may form cumulus general winds on the convective wind systems clouds. Warmed air adjacent to heated slopes tends to be In different convective circulation systems. Air be located in mountain valleys by traversing made buoyant by warming at the surface is forced side slopes and by taking thermometer aloft. These vortexes draw on new supplies of the stability of the lower atmosphere. the diurnal changes. Convective Winds In the absence of strong synoptic-scale mountaintop and valley-bottom readings give pressure gradients. tends to remain in stagnant layers because of This is somewhat different from common inertia. escaping air usually takes the form of intermittent bubbles that break free and are forced aloft by Convective winds may be augmented. These. En- significant. These convective the more important but both are part of the same currents frequently cause daytime cumulus clouds system. vegetation. seeking the lowest levels. until it reaches a critical point of instability meteorological usage. gradients. convective winds here refer to all so often observed over mountain peaks and ridges. forced upslope to the crest where it flows off in a either the vertical or the horizontal flow may be more-or-less continuous stream. 108 . or horizontal— that have their In generally flat terrain. is caused to rise by horizontal airflow resulting Strong surface heating produces the most from the temperature-induced small-scale pressure varied and complex convective wind systems. from small-scale pressure gradients produced by Height of the nighttime inversion may usually temperature differences within the locality. all features of the invariably flows downward along the steepest environment that affect heating and cooling are route available. Among the more important are season. down. In the absence of upper-air soundings. Hence. lakes and bays. too. op. As they ascend. heated air as they move along the surface. route. surrounding denser air. along ocean shores and around the larger inland ients. ground. The upward motion only. air heated at the surface principal origin in local temperature differences. Other types of local convective circulations The strong temperature dependence of involving both vertical and horizontal movement convective winds make local temperature ob. occur where there are differences in heating servations useful indicators of probable wind between sizeable adjacent areas.

then gradually pushes farther and farther inland during the day. although the times can vary of local considerably because conditions of cloudiness and the general winds. and air over the land becomes worm and buoyant. land the land expands. Superheated air in flat terrain escapes upward in bubbles or in the form of whirlwinds or dust devils. reaching its maximum penetration about the time of maximum As land surfaces become warmer than adjacent water surfaces temperature. this air flows seaward aloft to replace air which has settled and moved toward shore. the air over daytime sea-breeze circulation. Strong surface heating produces several kinds of convective systems. during the daytime. when land surfaces become The land breeze at night is the reverse of the warmer than adjacent water surfaces. forcing the warm air over the land to rise and cool adiabatically. the denser sea breeze begins to flow inland from over the water and forces the less-dense air upward. In the absence of strong general winds. and ends around sunset. At night. The breeze begins at the coast. In chapter 2 we considered in some detail the several reasons why land surfaces become warmer than water surfaces during the daytime. LAND AND SEA BREEZES During the daytime. and thus completes the circulation cell. 109 . As a result of this local-scale pressure difference. strengthens during the day. and the surfaces cool more quickly than water surfaces pressure becomes lower than that over the nearby water. The surface sea breeze begins around mid- forenoon. becomes less dense. Upslope winds develop along heated slopes. a sea breeze begins to flow inland from over the water.

having been cooled from below by contact with the ground. but any onshore general wind. displacing the warmer air. or parallel to the coast. The land breeze is. in turn. Air If marine air has been piled up over the water by an offshore wind. for the return flow aloft is likely to be so weak and diffuse that land breeze to slide under onshore winds of light it is lost in the prevailing general winds. if strong enough. this delay may extend into the afternoon. when the local pressure difference becomes great A general wind blowing toward the sea operates against the sea breeze and. A general wind blowing toward the sea opposes the sea breeze and. therefore. however. When general winds are sufficiently strong. The daily land and sea breezes tend to occur quite regularly when there is no significant influence from the general wind flow. is stable. The land air. At night. the land breeze does not extend very far seaward. 110 . if strong enough. causes air to flow from The land breeze does not form against a strong the land to the water. this sea air moves in-land with the then becomes cooler than air over adjacent water. speeds. in contact with the land becomes cool and flows out over the water it may rush inland like a small-scale cold front when the local as a land breeze. pressure difference becomes great enough. Then. Air in contact with the land enough. may prevent its development. may block the sea breeze entirely. either in the direction of the land and ends shortly after sunrise. usually about 3 to 5 miles per hour. this pressure difference. In doing so. and it moves over sun-warmed land. they usually mask the land and sea breezes. In any case the sea breeze is delayed. more laminar and shallower than the sea breeze. The land breeze begins 2 to 3 hours after sunset General winds. than the sea breeze. however. Air behind increase in air density causes pressure to become the front is initially cool and moist but warms rapidly as relatively higher over the land than over the water.(discussed in chapter 2). land surfaces cool more quickly than water surfaces. Depending on the strength of the general wind. The characteristics of a small-scale cold front. It is a more gentle flow or sea breeze. This often re- sults in a “piling up” of marine air off the coast. The air must be replaced. It is common.

land and sea breezes are most winds also tend to mask out the closed-cell feature pronounced in late spring and early summer. Against an opposing general wind. a small area may thus be subjected to several of these passages over a considerable time. a sea breeze in one sector and not in another. At this slow and intermittent pace. simple situation than the western because coastal Land and sea breezes occur along much of the topography is flat and uniform. Oftentimes. Eastern and western land and sea breezes circulation patterns are such that on both the Gulf differ in their respective behaviors due to marked and Atlantic shores there are frequent periods of differences in general circulation patterns. onshore or offshore winds strong enough to block temperature contrasts. Thus the sea-breeze component becomes weak and Gulf and Atlantic Breezes only slightly alters the general wind flow. This moves slowly.and sea-breeze development. too. They no return flow in the daytime sea-breeze are sufficiently strong during the spring and fall circulation.and sea-breeze circulations by land and water temperature differences are greatest. and on the shape and orientation of the shoreline ponent. Another feature of this type of sea breeze is that it is operating in an area of convergence. This is conducive to turbulent vertical motion in addition to the above-mentioned horizontal surface disturbances. General In the East.and sea-breeze circulations in the East sector and support it in another. the sea breeze may develop and move inland. and topography. however. general seaboard. particularly in view of the fact that this type of sea breeze is prone General winds along an irregular or crooked coastline may oppose to occur on high fire-danger days. fire seasons to warrant consideration as important General winds along an irregular or crooked fire-weather elements in coastal areas. when of the land. Whether or or mask out land. and at times may oscillate back and forth with the varying force of the general wind. Pacific coast. Strong general winds produce mechanical and inland topography. In addition to the rapid changes in wind speed and direction associated with a cold-front passage.or sea-breeze com. the Gulf of Mexico. and the eastern land and sea breeze represents a more may result in highly variable local wind patterns. Otherwise. 111 . coastline may oppose a land or sea breeze in one Land. the sea breeze moves forward behind a small-scale cold front. are more often dominated by changes in the general shifting general winds may cause periodic wind pattern than they are in the West. there is season as temperature differences decrease. on the other hand.tend to mask the true land. perhaps 3 or 4 miles an hour. reversals of these effects in nearby localities. During periods of gentle to moderate offshore winds. the sea breeze may have penetrated inland only a few miles by late afternoon. mixing which tends to lessen the temperature difference between the land and the sea surfaces. for example. overshadowing the return flow aloft. not these factors are significant locally depends on Onshore general winds almost always mask sea- the local climate breeze effects. With an and they taper off toward the end of the warm onshore general wind aloft. and the Atlantic During the fire season in the East. This combination can create critical fire-weather situations.

500 feet. favorable conditions. but sometimes night. The strong temperature contrasts then The Pacific coastal area sea breeze is at its remain near the coast while the warmed sea breeze peak at the height of the summer fire season. this air may soon become almost as warm as the air it is Pacific Coast Sea Breeze replacing. than does sea breeze may combine with upslope winds during the sea breeze in the East. therefore. The flow of cool. is marked by a wind shift and an increase in wind moist air is sufficient to carry tremendous amounts speed. Here. The Pacific sea breeze brings relatively cool. During the day. the sea breeze Normally the general wind serves to strengthen often moves inland more rapidly at the top of the the Pacific coast sea breeze. the marine water and the land. circulation. It is an may penetrate many miles beyond. The reverse land breeze often becomes just miles inland. Instability and months. The depth of the sea breeze is Since the monsoon flows onshore both day and usually around 1. forward portions of the endless metal tracks on a The sea breeze is superimposed on the monsoon moving tractor. and moves farther inland. Where the marine air is greater land-water temperature differences along the modified extensively by heating. Flow from this high to the California Low surface. but opposition of forces also slows down the onshore usually its speed is around 10 to 15 miles per hour. marine-air layer is shallower than normal. or reduce to a negligible reaches 3. air from the ocean The Pacific sea breeze is characterized by moves inland. Because of surface friction. rises as it is heated. by the general circulation. On seaward-facing slopes the layer is thicker. The Pacific coast. the sea breeze. begins in spring and lasts until fall. the temperature Pacific coast. and is replaced on the seaward side by inland 30 to 40 miles or more from the water under gradually settling air from the general circulation. the semipermanent North Pacific High is convective mixing caused by surface warming then located in the general area between Hawaii and tend to bring the sea breeze aloft down to the Alaska. the marine air is subjected to part of the offshore general wind and thereby loses heating as it passes over the warmer land. If the its identity. the daytime. Intense daytime land heating temperatures and higher humidities produce less under clear skies is an additional factor in producing dangerous fire weather.000 feet or more.200 to 1. particularly in the morning hours. mixes with the considerable thermal turbulence and may extend upper winds. The passage of penetrate the coast ranges provide the principal the leading edge of this air—the sea-breeze front— inland sea-breeze flow routes. so that the sea-breeze front appears to results in onshore surface winds along most of the progress on the surface in jumps or surges. During the day. This seasonal flow. thus transporting modified marine air to the higher elevations in the coastal mountains. helping to maintain inland clouds. brings in a fresh surge of barriers to the free flow of surface air between the marine air. the night land breeze. Because of this assistance. Mountains along the Pacific coastline act as assisted by the monsoon. Within summer humidities at moderate levels in the areas the first few opposite the passes. this with the water-land temperature contrast. however. The sea breeze is. called the Pacific motion is somewhat analogous to that of the coast monsoon. its lower the Atlantic coast. the 112 . while the shifting wind direction daily summertime occurrence along the Pacific and increase in wind speed and gustiness can be a coast except on rare occasions when it is opposed serious detriment to fire control. monsoon at night. stronger and humidity changes with the sea-breeze front along the western than the eastern coasts. However. Where the marine are much lower than along the Gulf of Mexico and air is not modified appreciably. Its intensity will vary amount. important feature of the summer weather along Thus the effect of the sea breeze on fire much of the Pacific coast. Often it is accompanied by fog or low stratus of marine air inland. During the summer marine layer than at the surface. River systems and other deep passes that moist marine air to the coastal areas. It is a become negligible. Water temperatures there behavior can vary considerably. it tends to weaken.

and in another it 113 . convective tween different terrain features—sometimes winds of local origin become important features separated only by yards—are often noted. In broad valleys. The onshore winds. which there is a large diurnal range of surface air tremely complex. On seaward-facing slopes. reinforce. SLOPE AND VALLEY WINDS Winds in mountain topography are ex. along the shores of the feeble land breeze from the coastal strip at night. Variations be- daytime heating or nighttime cooling. On a summer afternoon it is not but again. the general temperatures.Mountains along the coastline act as barriers to the free flow of air River systems and other deep passes that cut through coast ranges between the water and the land. Then. winds associated with larger scale pressure General and convective winds may systems dominate the surface layer. The of mountain weather. sea breeze joins with afternoon upvalley and downvalley and downcanyon flow is. Their larger scale pressure systems weaken. this flow takes on speed wind system. breeze may combine with upslope winds during the daytime and bring modified marine air to higher elevations. relationship to each other can change quickly— eral winds lessen. These conditions are convective activity may dominate the observed typical of clear summer weather in surface wind in one instance. relatively normal land breeze. the outflowing river systems provide the unusual for most shore stations to experience principal flow routes. a relatively shallow and low- strong flow. resulting in a cooler. in the presence of strong often with surprising rapidity. Part of the time. the sea provide the principal sea-breeze flow routes. the usual sea-breeze characteristics. or oppose each other. for example. Great Lakes. The lake breeze is common winds on the ocean-facing slopes join with a in summer. along the shores of lakes or other bodies of water The coastal mountains similarly cut off major large enough to establish a sufficient air flow from the land to the sea at night. But when displace. the gen. but in narrow Small-scale diurnal circulations similar in canyons and gorges it may be strong and very principle to land and sea breezes occur along the gusty as a result of both mechanical and thermal shores of inland waters. like the upcanyon winds. Downslope temperature gradient. Lake breezes can appear turbulence.

which is the main exit for the warm air. upslope flow in the daytime and downflow at night. but it is subject to interruption or change at virtually any time or place. Here. They result from horizontal pressure differences. valleys. momentum of the upflowing air. The interactions between airflow of different origins. the depth of the warmed layer. process. canyon bottoms. upcanyon. and adjacent plains result in several different but related wind systems. These systems combine in most instances and operate together. 114 . local changes in stability that aid vertical motion. Air heated by contact with vertical or sloping surfaces is forced upward and establishes natural chimneys through which warm air flows up from the surface. Every local situation must be interpreted in terms of its unique qualities. convergence of upslope winds from Upslope winds are shallow near the base of slopes but increase in opposite slopes. Turbulence and depth of the unstable layer increase to the crest of the slope.may permit the speed and direction of winds aloft The crests of higher ridges are also likely to to dominate the surface flow through the mixing experience the influence of the general wind flow. Slope winds are produced by the local pressure gradient caused by the difference in temperature between air near the slope and air at the same elevation away from the slope. During the daytime the warm air sheath next to the slope serves as a natural chimney and provides a path of least resistance for the upward flow of warm air. and mechanical turbulence depth and speed as more heated air is funneled along the slope. or from a combination of the two. Ravines or draws facing the sun are particularly effective chimneys because of the large area of heated surface and steeper slopes. but their depth increases from the lower portion of the slope to the upper portion. winds are frequently stronger here than on intervening spur ridges or uniform slopes. combine to make the ridge a very turbulent Warm air bubbles forced upward cause turbulence which increases region where much of the warm air escapes aloft. local pressure gradients caused by nonuniform heating of mountain slopes. and downslope at night because of surface cooling. Upslope winds are quite shallow. Differences in air heating over mountain slopes. They flow upslope during the day as the result of surface heating. and the exceedingly complex physical shapes of mountain systems combine to prevent the rigid application of rules of thumb to convective winds in mountain areas. Wind behavior described in this section is considered typical. Their common denominator is upvalley. Slope Winds Slope winds are local diurnal winds present on all sloping surfaces. if that flow is moderate or strong.

porarily where there are obstructions to free flow. and then (3) gentle laminar flow downslope. Downslope winds are shallow. creating an inversion the topography. and the flow tends to be laminar. the air tends to flow in a At night. Strong air temperature contrasts which increases in depth and strength during the result in relatively higher air speeds. The transition from upslope to downslope wind be- gins soon after the first slopes go into afternoon shadow and cooling of the surface begins. following the natural drainage ways in the topography. In individual draws and on slopes going into shadow. the transition period consists of (1) dying of the upslope wind. Downslope winds are very shallow and of a slower speed than upslope winds. rather than to separate and flow around them on The principal force here is gravity. With night hours. With weak to its downward course. (2) a period of relative calm. the airflow tends Cool. dense air accumulates in the bottom to follow the steepest downward routes through of canyons and valleys. such as crooked canyons and dense brush or timber. Downslope winds from above sufficient momentum. the cool denser air near the surface of slopes flows downward.At night the cool air near the surface flows downslope much like water. tends to be laminar. following the natural drainage ways in the topography. therefore. The principal force is gravity. much like water. Downslope winds may be dammed tem. The cold air may be dammed by obstructions such as dense brush or timber. The cooled denser air is stable and the downslope flow. Cool air from slopes accumulates in straight path over minor topographic obstructions low spots and overflows them when they are full. 115 . moderate temperature contrasts.

creating an inversion which increases in depth and strength during the night hours. in the valley than over the same horizontal surface During strong daytime heating. dense air settles in the bottom of canyons and valleys. The rest of the volume is taken up valley circulation may be absent. During the day. Cool air flows outward over the valley bottom when it reaches air of its own density. This temperature difference. the air bottom. Air flowing upslope in the daytime may be in the mountain valleys and canyons tends to replaced by settling cooler air over the center of the become warmer than air at the same elevation over valley. Air plain or larger valley. Upflowing air is by landmass beneath the slopes. cross. A valley may have continually warmed along the slopes. Cool. This may be upvalley by day and downvalley at night. and may be replaced by air from over the valley reverses from day to night. They are either near the top of the inversion or some the result of local pressure gradients caused by distance below the top. and the warmer air is forced aloft above of the plain. There they fan out Valley winds are diurnal winds that flow horizontally over the canyon or valley. on reaching the upper One reason for the more intensive heating of slopes. 116 . both upslope and downslope and air at the same elevation over the adjacent winds may result in a cross-valley circulation. The circulation system may be completed if adjacent plains or larger valleys. the ridgetops by denser surface air brought in by Another reason is the fact that the mountain the upvalley winds. differences in temperature between air in the valley Theoretically. has cooled enough adiabatically to flow out the mountain valley air is the smaller volume of air over the valley and replace air that has settled. Adiabatic only from one-half to three-fourths the volume of cooling may not be sufficient to offset the air as that above the same horizontal surface area warming. however. the upward flowing air. area of the plain. the inversion continue downward until they reach Valley Winds air of their own density. cooled along the slopes at night flows downward and the resulting pressure difference and airflow.

The depth of the Upvalley and downvalley winds are the result of local pressure upvalley wind over the center of the valley is gradients caused by differences in temperature between air in the usually about the same as the average ridge height. The upvalley wind reaches its maximum speed in early afternoon and continues into the evening.h. and the resulting slope-wind circulation is effective in distributing the heat through the entire mass of valley air. Pressure builds up in the valley. Proceeding upstream during the daytime. the direction of depending on the size of the valley or canyon and the upslope wind is affected. Along or release of the dense air pool created by cooling upper ridges particularly. Its speed is ordinarily somewhat less than the upvalley Slopes along the valley sides begin to cool in wind. As the valley-wind flow takes place in the early night—the time system strengthens during the day. Strong upvalley and upcanyon winds may be quite turbulent because of the unstable air and the night.valley air is somewhat protected by the surrounding ridges from the general wind flow. a down-slope wind develops valley wind picks up. and an upvalley wind begins. cool air starts flowing downslope. the upslope winds are along the valley floor. Cool air The downvalley wind continues through the accumulates in the valley bottom as more air from night and diminishes after sunrise. as the speed of the place gradually. deepens during the early changed to a more upvalley direction. valley and air at the same elevation over the adjacent plain. causing the dependent. the combined flow continually divides at each tributary inlet into many up-ravine and upslope The transition from upvalley to downvalley components to the ridge-tops. the flow tends to be quite along the slopes. shortly after they come into downvalley wind may be quite strong. shadow. With continued cooling. the plain. Eddies may form at downvalley wind may be thought of as the exodus canyon bends and at tributary junctions. It is somewhat shallower than the erratic. although these the surface pressure within the valley becomes winds may not be easy to distinguish from valley higher than the pressure at the same elevation over winds. above comes in contact with the slopes and is Valley winds and slope winds are not in- cooled. has slope winds along its length. The flow reverses from day to night. with little or no turbulence because quickly. The roughness of the terrain. but there are exceptions in which the late afternoon and. The valley air is heated by contact with the slopes. By the 117 . Usually this is middle or late forenoon. and a downvalley flow begins. the up-valley wind does not start until the whole mass of air within the valley becomes warmed. As the valley air becomes warmer and less dense than the air over the plain. Upvalley wind speeds in larger valleys are ordinarily from 10 to 15 m. A sloping valley or canyon bottom also upvalley wind to cease. The transition takes draws to the ridgetop. Whereas upslope winds begin within minutes after the sun strikes the slope. of the stable temperature structure of the air. First. Then.p. The first movement in on factors favoring cooling and the establishment the morning is directly up the slopes and minor of a temperature differential. and becomes the downvalley wind. a local pressure gradient is established from the plain to the valley. thus drastically affecting fire behavior. Wind speed and direction may change up-valley wind. depending largely on the size of the valley.

and west will therefore be lighter on the brush. become shaded.Th. Bare slopes southwest slopes heat the most and have the and grassy slopes will heat up more readily than strongest upslope winds. South and slope winds and. Upslope wind covered slopes. Upslope winds begin as a downslope flow strengthens and additional slopes gentle upflow soon after the sun strikes the slope. combined upslope and upvalley winds proceed upstream during the day and continually divide at each tributary into many upravine and upslope components. In fact. Along the upper slopes. in turn. may be completely dominated by the upvalley wind. Nighttime downslope winds are similarly affected.and valley-wind strength downslope flow. the direction may continue to be upslope. Where slopes with different aspects drain into a common basin. valley winds. the slope winds. greater than those on the opposite north slopes. draws to the ridgetops. until a 180-degree change in Therefore. on densely forested slopes speeds on south slopes may be several times the upslope wind may move above the treetops. particularly the lower portion. some slopes go into shadow before others and also before the upvalley wind Effects of Orientation and Vegetation ceases. the late afternoon Orientation of the topography is an important upvalley winds are bent in the direction of the first factor governing slope. they begin first on east-facing slopes direction has taken place some time after sunset. on the lower slopes at least.or tree- slopes by about midafternoon. Upslope winds maximum wind speeds soon after midday. because the upvalley wind does not always completely fill the valley. time the valley wind reaches its maximum. so that the observed wind direction is downvalley. They continue to shift as the and diurnal timing. When the downvalley wind is fully Morning upslope winds flow straight up the slopes and minor developed. it dominates the flow along the slopes. while at the surface 118 . after daybreak and increase in both intensity and The vegetative cover on slopes will also affect extent as daytime heating continues. South slopes reach their slopes covered with brush or trees. In many upland basins.

In this situation. systems. The general wind flow goes pure convective winds. except on the highest peaks. Late afternoon upvalley winds are turned in the direction of the first downslope flow. the downslope flow will be confined to the trunk region while calm prevails in the canopy region. the flow is are turned to a more upvalley direction. Downslope winds begin as soon as slopes go into shadow. the surface raphy tend to force weak general winds aloft above winds. A forest with a dense understory is an effective As the upvalley wind picks up during the day. Frequently. are virtually the ridgetop. the daytime upper winds are felt only Midday upslope winds in mountain topog. Where there is an open space between the tree canopy and the surface. roadways. or confined to stream channels. Here. the upslope winds barrier to downslope winds. diverted around dense areas. or other openings cut through there may be a very shallow downslope flow the forest. Upslope winds 119 . because of the shade provided by the canopy. on the highest peaks. Downslope winds at night on densely forested slopes are affected by the presence or absence of a dense understory. INTERACTION OF VALLEY AND SLOPE WINDS WITH GENERAL WINDS Slope and valley wind systems are subject to over the rising currents above the ridge. These interruption or modification at any time by the rising currents may be effective in producing or general winds or by larger scale convective wind modifying waves in the general wind flow.

com- monly warm and dry. But cold. Relatively warm air will continue to flow aloft without dropping into valleys and canyons and disturbing the convective wind systems. When the general wind blows in the direction opposite to the upvalley wind. General winds are modified by local wind flow. Weak general winds The general wind has its maximum effect on valley may exist only at or above ridgetops when strong upslope winds predominate. directions. it extends its influence some distance down into the valley and the observed surface wind will be the resultant of the up- valley and general winds. Late afternoon weakening of upslope winds and the onset of downslope flow in the early evening allow the general winds to lower onto the exposed upper slopes and ridgetops. 120 . air in the flow aloft from the North Pacific High is subsiding and. this air may be found at higher levels at least as far inland as the Sierra-Cascade Range. therefore. scouring out valleys and canyons and Late afternoon weakening of upslope winds and the onset of completely erasing the valley wind systems. and its spread may be strongly affected as it comes under the influence of the general wind flow. relatively dense air combined with strong general wind flow tends to follow the surface of the topography. A fire burning to a ridgetop under the influence of upslope afternoon winds may flare up. If the general wind is blowing in the direction of the upvalley wind and the air is relatively unstable. The ridges tend to shield the valley circulation from the effects of the general wind. Similar phenomena may occur in mountainous country elsewhere. and temperatures. In the Far West. this wind may add to the downslope wind on the lee side of ridges and result in increased speed. The resulting surface wind will be a combination of the general wind and the upvalley wind. Valley winds are affected by the general wind flow according to their relative strengths. blows parallel to the valley. If the air being brought in by the general wind is relatively cold. dominate the saddles and lower ridges and combine with upvalley winds to determine wind speeds and directions at the lower elevations. General winds blowing at right angles to the axis of a valley during the daytime have much less influence on the valley wind pattern than those blowing along the valley. At night. the influence of the general wind will be felt down to the valley floor. Such effects downslope flow in the early evening allow the general winds to lower are common in cold air following the passage of a cold onto exposed upper slopes and ridgetops. Upslope winds may establish or intensify wave motion winds during the daytime when a strong general wind in the general wind flow. The relative coldness or density of air being brought in by the general winds is an important factor. The degree of interaction also varies from day to night.

By midday the flow up the west slopes has flow is relatively cold and the direction is increased. local winds tend to be upslope and flow up daytime. Ordinarily a nighttime inversion forms in the draws on both the west and east sides of the the valleys. cooler the air flowing in with the general wind. up-slope winds redevelop in late slope. Usually. On An exception to the normal upcanyon. particularly during the gence zone has moved eastward across the ridge. the downslope afternoon winds diminish and change 121 . As was mentioned in the the east side. some days. in the absence of an overriding general wind effect on valley wind systems than during the flow. inversion and the general wind influence will be Waves form in this westerly flow. the flow through gaps and downvalley wind from the general wind flow. warrant further discussion. but most Downslope Afternoon Winds frequently it is around noon or early afternoon. when mountain waves extend commonly three times as strong as the forenoon down to the surface they will completely obscure upslope winds. the general wind can combine with a strengthening of the monsoon circulation due to downslope and downvalley winds and produce intensification of the thermal trough. and Another important exception is the action of later surface to cause strong down-slope winds on lee-side mountain waves. On other the east slopes of the Pacific Coast Ranges to days. In some areas. These effects are most pronounced when the general wind flow is parallel to the axis of the valley. and the flow through the gaps has changed to further cooling will usually establish a surface westerly. Then. evening hours. however. but after the season. In foehn wind situations this winds occur nearly every day during the warm may occur during the day or night. The time of the wind shift from during the evening hours. daytime flow occurs frequently enough on afternoon as the mountain waves go aloft. The and downvalley winds from the general wind flow above. Strongwinds blowing across narrow valleys and canyons may not be able to drop down into them since momentum may carry the airflow across too quickly. Downslope afternoon winds are previous chapter. downslope afternoon valley wind systems. and in deep layers of cold marine air along the Pacific coast. remain aloft on the lee side of the mountains. which first lifted to the top of the inversion. upslope to downslope on the east side may vary from late forenoon to late afternoon. In these situations the general wind flow is dominant. and this effectively shields the Coast Ranges. Later during the night. meet in a convergence zone on the west side of the If the air being brought in by the general wind ridge. most likely because of the sea breeze or appropriate. The conver- fairly strong surface winds. there are in-between situations where the general wind flow only partly disturbs the valley wind systems. there are important exceptions that must be on the east side in the forenoon. it is most common occasionally.front. The two flows considered. saddles is easterly because of the stronger heating Again. up. If the descending air reaches a temperature equal to that of the valley A nighttime inversion in a valley effectively shields the downslope air. it will leave the slope and cross the valley. too. while in other areas they occur only first day of the foehn wind. the farther it will descend into the valley. General winds warm adiabatically as they descend the slopes on the windward side of a valley. During the fore- General winds at night usually have much less noon.

some triggering action must occur within the layer even in calm air. but usually a triggering 122 . whirling of an ice skater increases as he moves his The lapse rate mentioned in the preceding arms from an extended position to near his body. The flow becomes spiral because the the vortex. or other spontaneously. but usually this is weak and spiral is analogous to the whirlpool effect nearly invisible. Updrafts can also begin common indications of intense local heating. WHIRLWINDS Whirlwinds or dust devils are one of the most action initiates the updraft. drawing in hot air from the surface layer. However. strong winds blow down the east slopes and westerly flow aloft develops. They if the layer acquires only a super-adiabatic lapse occur on hot days over dry terrain when skies are rate.2°F. If waves with suitable length and amplitude two flows meet in a convergence zone on the west side. a lapse rate less than the clear and general winds are light. One common superheated air rises in columns or chimneys. with superadiabatic lapse rates. The whirling motion intensifies as the horizontal flow toward the base is almost air flows toward the center. The some whirling motion. triggering action is the upward deflection of the establishing strong convective circulations. air near the ground rate. The provide the initial impulse upward. local winds tend On some afternoons the convergence zone moves east as the to be upslope and upcanyon on both the east and west sides. convergence zone and the easterly upslope winds. and surface wind by an obstacle. In this case. autoconvective but greater than the dry-adiabatic Under intense heating. per 10 feet quiet surface air actually remains in vertical which is about 3½ times the dry-adiabatic rate. paragraph is called the autoconvective lapse rate. The stronger the updraft. and becomes buoyant only if it is instability is then so extreme that overturning can lifted. much the same as the invariably off balance.During the forenoon in the western Coast Ranges. The equilibrium. dust. An It is probable that nearly all updrafts have upward-spiraling motion usually develops. the stronger the always observed in water draining from a wash whirl. it temporarily rides over the east-facing canyons. If a form in the flow aloft. often acquires a lapse rate of 0. The westerly flow increases. because a larger volume of air is drawn into basin. The whirl becomes visible if the updraft becomes Greater instability than this may create updrafts strong enough to pick up sand. that is.

but as soon heights range from 10 feet to 3. and hotspots remaining in the fire area clockwise or counterclockwise. and move bodily out of the main fire area. If it does Firewhirls break away. area. and can pick up fair-sized large amount of heat is being generated in a small debris.000 feet in as they do the flame dies out and they become extreme cases. produced by a stationary object. and spreads the fire to new fuels. A whirlwind sometimes Whirlwinds may remain stationary or move rejuvenates an apparently dead fire. but many last twist off trees more than 3 feet in diameter.h. Upward currents may be as heavy concentrations of fuels are burning and a high as 25 to 30 m.h. such as an obstruction or a sharp ridge. and then spew them out far across the fireline and The sizes of whirlwinds vary considerably. carry them aloft. air in the heated layer is drawn into the breakthrough. Once convection is established. cause numerous spot fires. The blackened ashes and 123 .p. If the triggering action is burning embers. the firewhirls Diameters range from 10 to over 100 feet.h. the whirlwind usually remains adjacent to the object. Wind speeds in the whirlwinds are ordinary whirlwinds moving across the landscape. charred materials are good absorbers of heat from depending on the triggering action. Such firewhirls have been known to whirlwinds last only a few seconds. often more than 20 m. The latent energy may be released by some triggering mechanism. Those whirlwinds that move show instability in the lower air and may cause violent a tendency to move toward higher ground.000 or 4. may also heat the air. At times. it may die out and another develops The heat generated by fires produces extreme over the object.p. Mechanical forces are often present Whirlwinds are common in an area that has just burned over. debris. Whirlwinds form when sufficient instability develops in a superheated layer near the ground. It may be either the sun.p. They several minutes and a few have continued for can pick up large burning embers. and in some cases have Firewhirls occur most frequently where exceeded 50 m. Some firewhirls. The direction of rotation is accidental. several hours. picks up with the surface wind.

or more even if the cumulus does not develop into a thunderstorm. Air streams of unequal whirl. In these cases the whirls can serve as the triggering mechanism to initiate seem to start when a critical level of energy output the whirl. A cumulus cloud formed elsewhere that drifts over a peak or ridge also may increase the upslope winds while the cloud grows with renewed vigor. With continued drift.p. and (3) the cold air outflow which sometimes develops squall characteristics. than the surrounding air. bringing in cool air at higher levels over the fire- THUNDERSTORM WINDS Special winds associated with cumulus cloud growth and thunderstorm development are true convective winds. falling rain within and below the is dragged downward to a point where it is colder cloud drags air with it and initiates a downdraft. may actually increase the speed of upslope winds that initiated the cloud formation. But air being dragged the general wind and favorable airflow channels. it may cascade to the Downward-flowing air. downward in the initial stages of a thunderstorm This is known as the first gust and will be treated downdraft is warmed at a lesser rate because of more fully in chapter 10. The indraft to the cloud base may not be felt very far below or away from the cloud cell.which serve as triggering mechanisms to start the heated air on the lee side. entrainment of surrounding cooler air and the In mountainous terrain the thunderstorm presence of cold raindrops or ice crystals. (2) downdrafts in the later stages of full thunderstorm development. The wind may add to the instability by has been reached by a portion of the fire. even though we will consider them again when we look into the stages of thunderstorm development in chapter 10. A favored area for firewhirls is the lee side speeds or from different directions in adjacent of a ridge where the heated air from the fire is areas can mechanically set off firewhirls in fire- sheltered from the general winds. formation If a cumulus cloud develops into a mature thunderstorm. is ordinarily warmed becomes a surface wind guided by the direction of at the moist-adiabatic rate. Ordinarily. however. There are always strong updrafts within growing cumulus clouds. For that reason they will be described here. Mechanical heated air. sometimes 30 m. the air feeding into the cloud base is drawn both from heated air near the surface and from air surrounding the updraft.h. which remains saturated by ground as a strong downdraft. Firewhirls have also been observed in eddies produced as the wind blows across the ridge relatively flat terrain. the cloud The updraft into cumulus clouds that form over peaks and ridges may draw the ridgetop convection with it for a may actually increase the upslope winds that initiated the cloud considerable distance before separating. If this air downdraft tends to continue its downward path 124 . In level terrain this the evaporation of raindrops. A cell that forms over a peak or ridge. These winds are (1) the updrafts predom- inating in and beneath growing cumulus clouds.

These storms often cool sizeable masses of air covering an area of a hundred or several hundred square miles. As this air spreads out and settles to lower levels. develop into thunderstorms. the local suitable moisture and instability conditions. which. being composed of cold air.h. Speeds of 20 or 30 m.p. whirlwinds. but lasts only a winds. However. downdraft winds are of short duration. it is not necessary for developing cumulus clouds to reach the thunderstorm stage for downdrafts to occur. usually following a winds are land and sea breezes. heating and cooling will influence convective Strong local heating will develop a very unstable winds. Any factors affecting air and air at the same elevation over the plains. but are on a smaller geographic scale. which. It strikes suddenly and violently. have been measured. the air has sufficient momentum to traverse at least short adverse slopes in its downward plunge. These are strong and gusty. and winds associated with Thermal updrafts resulting from local heating convective cumulus and thunderstorm clouds. may produce whirlwinds.h. in turn.into the principal drainage ways. end quickly. They behave much like wind in squall lines ahead of cold fronts. Occurring as they do in the warm summer months. which are produced by local result from temperature differences between valley temperature differences. and the sudden release general wind flow. SUMMARY In this chapter on convective winds we have and air over the valley. under In the land. They are stronger when the air mass is hot. Slope winds are cumulus clouds. as in the late afternoon. winds. If it is dense enough. The high speeds and surface roughness cause these winds to be extremely gusty. and speeds of 60 to 75 m.and sea-breeze system. Up-drafts are ferences. Valley winds likewise included local winds.p. produce differences in the convective winds characteristic of developing temperature of the overlying air. they begin and short time. are common. follows leading edge—a front—is accompanied by squall the topography. may produce cumulus clouds. Although downdraft winds are a common characteristic of thunderstorms. the The downdraft in a mature thunderstorm continues out of the base of the cloud to the ground and. may winds are due to land-water temperature dif. these cool air masses are in strong temperature contrast with their surroundings. These winds will also be affected by the layer of air near the surface. The most familiar convective of this concentrated energy. valley and slope triggering action. they may travel out many miles beyond the original storm area. than during the night or forenoon. Squall winds often precede or accompany thunderstorms in the mountainous West. but downdrafts are produced in due to temperature differences between slope air thunderstorms after precipitation 125 . Downdrafts can develop on hot days from towering cumulus clouds producing only high-level precipitation. Although they strike suddenly and violently.

winds. and the Having considered the general circulation weather associated with them. and general convective.Begins falling from the cloud. we will now turn 126 . to the subject of air masses and fronts.

to be sure. are gradual from day to day. or the interaction of two or more air masses. if only for a short time. 127 . or leading edge of the new air mass. passes. clear or cloudy—depends on the temperature and humidity structure of the air mass. When one air mass gives way to another in a region. Chapter 8 AIR MASSES AND FRONTS The day-to-day fire weather in a given area depends. humid or dry. These elements will be altered by local conditions. on either the character of the prevailing air mass. But if it is dry. the fire weather may ease. to a large extent. fire weather may change abruptly—sometimes with violent winds—as the front. and the resulting changes in fire weather. but these changes. If the frontal passage is accompanied by precipitation. the fire weather may become critical. The weather within an air mass—whether cool or warm. its characteristics will be modified. but they tend to remain overall characteristic of the air mass. As an air mass moves away from its source region.


In chapter 5 we learned that in the primary is called an air mass. Within horizontal layers, the
and secondary circulations there are regions where temperature and humidity properties of an air mass
high-pressure cells tend to form and stagnate. are fairly uniform. The depth of the region in
Usually, these regions have uniform surface which this horizontal uniformity exists may vary
temperature and moisture characteristics. Air from a few thousand feet in cold, winter air masses
within these high-pressure cells, resting or moving to several miles in warm, tropical air masses.
slowly over land or sea areas that have uniform Weather within an air mass will vary locally
properties, tends to acquire corresponding from day to day due to heating, cooling,
characteristics—the coldness of polar regions, the precipitation, and other processes. These vari-
heat of the tropics, the moisture of the oceans, or ations, however, usually follow a sequence that
the dryness of the continents. may be quite unlike the weather events in an
A body of air, usually 1,000 miles or more adjacent air mass.
across, which has assumed uniform characteristics,

A body of air, usually 1,000 miles or more across, which has assumed uniform characteristics of temperature and moisture, is
coiled an air mass.


Where two or more air masses come together, In this chapter, we will consider first the
the boundary between them may be quite distinct; different types of air masses and the weather
it is called a front. Frontal zones, where lighter air associated with them, and then the different kinds
masses are forced over denser air masses, are of fronts and frontal weather.
regions of considerable weather activity.


The region where an air mass acquires its which it is resting may vary from a few days to 10
characteristic properties of temperature and days or 2 weeks, depending largely on whether the
moisture is called its source region. Ocean areas, body of air is initially colder or warmer than the
snow- or ice-covered land areas, and wide desert temperature of its source region. If the air is colder,
areas are common source regions. Those areas it is heated from below. Convective currents are
producing air masses which enter the fire- produced, which carry the heat and moisture aloft
occurrence regions of North America are: and rapidly modify the air to a considerable height.
1. The tropical Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of On the other hand, if the air is initially warmer
Mexico, and the tropical Pacific, which are than the surface, it is cooled from below. This
uniformly warm and moist. cooling stabilizes the air and cuts off convection.
2. The Northern Pacific and Northern At- Cooling of the air above the surface must take
lantic, which are uniformly cool and moist. place by conduction and radiation, and these are
3. Interior Alaska, Northern Canada, and the slow processes. Thus, a longer time—up to 2
Arctic, which are uniformly cold and dry during weeks—is required for the development of cold air
the winter months. masses, and even then these air masses are only a
4. Northern Mexico and Southwestern United few thousand feet thick.
States, which are usually hot and dry during the Air masses that form over a source region
summer months. vary in temperature and moisture from season to
The time required for a body of air to come to season, as does the source region. This is
approximate equilibrium with the surface over particularly true of continental source regions.
High-latitude continental source regions are much
colder and drier in the winter than in the summer,
and tropical continental source regions are much
hotter and drier in summer than in winter.
Air masses are classified according to their
source region. Several systems of classification
have been proposed, but we will consider only the
simplest. Air masses originating in high latitudes
are called polar (P), and those originating in
tropical regions are called tropical (T). Air masses
are further classified according to the underlying
surface in the source region as maritime for water
and continental for land. The “m” for maritime or
“c” for continental precedes the P or T. Thus, the
four basic types of air masses are designated as:
mP, mT, cP, and cT, according to their source
region. It is natural that air stagnating for some
time in a polar region will become cold, or in a
The oceans and the land are both important air-mass sources. tropical region will become warm. And air
spending sometime over water becomes


moist, at least in the lower layers, while air over transpiration from vegetation. Of these,
land becomes dry. sublimation is a relatively slow process by
For convenience, the four basic air mass types comparison.
are often referred to as moist cold, moist warm, dry 4. Moisture may be removed from an air mass
cold, and dry warm. by condensation and precipitation.
As an air mass leaves its source region in 5. Finally, air-mass properties may be
response to broadscale atmospheric motions, it changed by turbulent mixing, by sinking, or by
may be colder or warmer than the surface it passes lifting.
over. It is then further classified by the addition of After moving a considerable distance from its
k for colder or w for warmer to its classification source region, particularly after entering a source
symbol. The k-type air mass will be warmed from region of another type, an air mass may lose its
below and will become unstable in the lower original distinctive characteristics entirely and
layers. A w-type air mass will be cooled from acquire those of another air-mass type. Thus, a
below, will become stable, and will be modified continental polar all- mass moving out over the
slowly, and only in the lower few thousand feet. Gulf of Mexico takes on the characteristics of a
Air-mass properties begin changing as soon as maritime tropical air mass. Or a maritime polar air
the air mass leaves its source region. The amount mass, after crossing the Rocky Mountains, may
of modification depends upon the speed with assume the characteristics of a continental polar air
which the air mass travels, the type of surface over mass.
which it moves, and the temperature difference
between the air mass and the underlying surface.
Air masses are modified in several ways. For
the most part, these are processes which we have
already considered in detail. Several of the
processes usually take place concurrently:
1. An air mass is heated from below if it
passes over a warmer surface (previously warmed
by the sun) or if the surface beneath a slow-moving
air mass is being currently warmed by the sun.
Such modification is rapid because of the resulting
instability and convection.
2. An air mass is cooled from below if it
passes over a colder surface, or if the surface is
cooled by radiation. This increases the stability of
the lower layers, and further modification becomes
a slow process.
3. Moisture may be added to an air mass by:
(a) Evaporation from water surfaces, moist ground, An air mass which moves into the source region of another air-
and falling rain; (b) sublimation from ice or snow mass type, and stagnates, is transformed into that type of air mass.

surfaces and falling snow or hail; and (c)


There are many differences in air masses and over its source region, and the path it has followed
in the weather associated with them. Even within after leaving that region. We will discuss only the
one air-mass type, there will be considerable more distinct types of air masses and consider their
variation, depending on the season, the length of most common characteristics.
time that an air mass has remained


Continental Polar—Winter humidities associated with cP air masses are
Continental polar air masses originate in the responsible for much of the hazardous fire
snow-covered interior of Canada, Alaska, and the weather in the South and Southeast during the
Arctic in the colder months. Lower layers of the air cool months.
become quite cold, dry, and stable. Much moisture The Rocky Mountains effectively prevent
from the air is condensed onto the snow surface. most cP air masses from moving into the Far West.
These air masses are high-pressure areas, and there But occasionally, a portion of a deep cP air mass
is little cloudiness due to the lack of moisture and does move southward west of the Rockies, and in
to the stability of the air mass. so doing brings this area its coldest weather. At
These are the coldest wintertime air masses, times the air is cold enough for snow to fall as far
and cause severe cold waves when moving south as southern California.
southward through Canada and into the United
States. Upon moving southward or southeastward Maritime Polar—Winter
over warmer surfaces, cP air masses change to cPk.
The lower layers become unstable and turbulent. If The North Pacific is the common source
a part of the air mass moves over the Great Lakes, region for maritime polar air masses. While in its
it picks up moisture as well as heat and may source region, the air mass is cold and has a lapse
produce cloudiness and snow flurries or rain rate nearly the same as the moist-adiabatic rate. If
showers on the lee side of the Lakes, and again on the air mass moves into the snow-covered regions
the windward side of the Appalachian Mountains. of Canada, it gradually changes to a cP air mass.
Once across the Appalachians, the air mass is Maritime polar air taking that trajectory usually has
generally clear and slightly warmer. had a comparatively short stay over the water. It is
If a cP air mass moves southward into the quite cold and has high relative humidity, but mois-
Mississippi Valley and then into the Southeast, it ture content in terms of absolute humidity is rather
will gradually warm up but remain dry. Modi- low. However, rain or snow showers usually result
fication is slow until the air mass passes beyond as the air is lifted over the coastal mountains.
the snow-covered areas; then it becomes more Maritime polar air masses originating farther
rapid. When cP air moves out over the Gulf of south and entering Western United States or
Mexico, it is rapidly changed to an mT air mass. Southwestern Canada have had a longer overwater
The generally clear skies and relatively low trajectory, are not quite so cold, and have a higher
moisture content. On being forced over the Coast
Ranges and the Rocky Mountains, an mP air mass
loses much of its moisture through precipitation.
As the air mass descends on the eastern slopes of
the Rocky Mountains, it becomes relatively warm
and dry with generally clear skies. If, however, it
cannot descend on the lee side of the mountains,
and instead continues eastward over a dome of cold
cP air, snow may occur.
East of the Rockies, mP air at the surface in
winter is comparatively warm and dry, having lost
much of its moisture in passing over the mountains.
Skies are relatively clear. If this air mass reaches
the Gulf of Mexico, it is eventually changed into an
mT air mass.
Maritime polar air sometimes stagnates in the
Great Basin region of the Western United
Continental polar air masses in winter cause severe cold waves
when they move southward through Canada and into the Central
and Eastern United States.


but Pacific mT seldom enters the continent. it is usually brought in with a low- mountains. as well as the North Pacific. stratus clouds usually occur at night and dissipate during the day as this air mass invades the Mississippi Valley and the Great Plains. and frequent thunderstorms result. the trajectory of Atlantic mP air is limited to the northeastern seaboard. where the Pacific mT air can cause heavy rainfall States in association with a Great Basin High. cooling and frequently in Although mP air forms over the North At- lantic Ocean. the conditional instability is released and large cumulus clouds. it occasionally causes heavy rain or snow in these areas. have a high moisture content. and a conditionally unstable lapse rate. Maritime tropical air is brought into the southeastern and central portions of the country by the circulation around the western end of the Bermuda High. mountains. farther north usually have spent only a short time over the water The tropical Pacific is also a source region for and are cool and quite dry. Maritime Tropical . More will be time they spend in the source region. Fog and low fog in the Mississippi Valley and Great Plains and showers or snow over the Appalachians and in areas where it overruns a cooler air mass. outflow from the Great Basin High may give rise to strong. even though the source region for in Pacific coast valleys and may persist for a week cP air masses is farther north than in winter—over or more. If mT air is lifted over a cP air mass. but showers may occur in the mT air. mP air is trapped In summer. Those entering the continent said about this process in the section on fronts. The when rapidly forced aloft by the mountains. heavy showers. At times during the winter. or if it moves northeastward and is lifted on the western slopes of the Appalachians. Northern Canada and the polar regions—the making these valleys some of the foggiest places on warmer surface temperatures result in little surface the continent during the winter. Nevertheless. particularly in the When it does. Maritime tropical air seldom reaches as far as the Canadian border or the New England States at the surface in winter. They are warm. Those entering the west coast farther south ore more moist and produce much rain and snow. when mT air encounters a colder cP or mP air mass and is Maritime polar air masses in winter vary according to the length of forced to rise up over the denser air. dry foehn winds in a number of the Continental Polar-Summer surrounding States. 132 . mT air is cooled from below by contact with the cooler continent and Maritime tropical air in winter produces nighttime cloudiness and becomes stabilized in the lower levels.Winter Most of the maritime tropical air masses affecting temperate North America originate over the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea. In moving inland during the winter. pressure system in Northern Mexico or California. Low stratus clouds and fog are produced.

Stability in the lower Continental areas. often the north-central and northeastern regions from with fog or low stratus clouds. may be relatively unstable in the Occasionally. the rapidly. cP relatively cool compared to the land surfaces. As the moisture content increases. In summer. through summer. Aloft. Oregon. a strong inversion capping the marine layer. Washington. summer mP is heated adiabatically as in winter. this air mass remains very dry. upwelling waters along the shore cause cloudiness also increases. mass. the relative instability thunderstorms. and the relative humidity may become quite low at times. region and becomes stable. particularly over mountainous areas. covered with crops. however. it southward. it becomes warmer and more weather to the central and eastern portions of the continent.000-2. rarely produces cloudiness or precipitation. subsiding air above. Continental polar air in summer brings generally fair and dry Continuing eastward. and into fall. Thus. along the Pacific coast. and becomes vegetation. increasing relative humidity. When it arrives in the Plains and the Mississippi Valley. The air spring. Frequent intrusions of summer mP is characterized by a cool. and The weather associated with cP air as it stimulating the formation of considerable fog or passes through Canada and enters the United States low stratus clouds. 133 . it is hardly distinguishable from cP air in the area and results in clear. As mP air moves inland from the west coast.000 feet thick. and warm. layers prevents moisture from being carried to are relatively moist in summer. the ocean is During its southward and southeastward travel. cold. cP air Maritime polar air masses in summer originate undergoes tremendous changes in passing slowly in the same general area over the Pacific Ocean as from its source region to Southern United States. cP air stagnates in the South- lower layers in contrast to its extreme stability eastern United States and accumulates sufficient during the winter. dry weather. and picks up moisture from the earth and mass warms rather rapidly and becomes unstable as it moves plants. increase the moisture content of cP air rather As mP air approaches the Pacific coast. In descending the eastern slopes of the Rockies. The general atmospheric circulation is weaker Maritime Polar—Summer during the summer. air is warmed from below and becomes more Summer mP air is cooled from below in its source unstable. further cooling.actual heating of the air near the ground. humid this air give rise to much of the fire weather in marine layer from 1. the strong daytime heating in interior California. lifting can again produce showers or thunderstorms. It may pick up enough moisture to produce some has become unstable and moist enough so that clouds. and polar outbreaks move more slowly than in winter. grass. and other usually even drier than summer cP. and portions of British Columbia warms the surface layers and lowers the relative humidity. dry. As a result. By the time it reaches the Appalachians. forests. Transpiration from these plants and quite warm through the subsidence which takes evaporation from water bodies and moist soil place in the Pacific High. Since the air is quite dry from moisture to produce showers and isolated the surface to high levels. in winter. is generally fair and dry. over which cP air travels. therefore. The intense heating and the lifting as mP air crosses the mountains may result in cumulus cloud formation and occasional scattered showers and thunderstorms at high elevations. being largely higher levels. The air unstable.

western Montana. At night. eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. there may be sufficient cooling of the earth’s On rare occasions. 134 . slightly from the Gulf of Mexico. Heating and lifting of the air are likely to produce unstable. bringing with it the typical heat northward along the Sierra-Cascade range. if sufficient moisture is present. Maritime polar air formed over the colder waters of the North Atlantic in summer oc. When mT air is lifted. This is dissipated in the early morning by derstorm activity. and Southern Canada. except that tropical Pacific. and intense thunderstorms are produced. Daytime heating and orographic lifting produce showers clouds in the Sierras and showers or thunderstorms in the Rockies and thunderstorms in this warm. widespread clouds. Some thunderstorm activity develops as mT air spreads Daytime heating of the air as it moves inland northwestward from the Gulf and is lifted along the produces widespread showers and thunderstorms. In summer. regions. particularly. mT air brought in at intermediate levels by easterly and invades central and eastern North America very southeasterly flow. numerous showers. and oppressive humidity of those tropical source occasionally extending as far as northern Idaho. mP or cP air. from a dying tropical storm. either by crossing casionally moves southward bringing cool weather mountains or by being forced to rise over cooler and cloudiness to the Atlantic coastal areas. humid air mass. Usually this is residual mT air surface heating. sometimes penetrating as far north as mountains set off thunderstorms as the air spreads Southern Canada. Maritime Tropical—Summer Although some of the summer thunderstorm Maritime tropical air in its source region over activity in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean in summer United States is the result of mT air from the has properties similar to those in winter. mT air originating in the surface to bring the temperature of the air near the tropical Pacific spreads northward over ground to the dew point and produce fog or stratus Northwestern Mexico and California with thun- clouds.Stratus clouds and fog along the Pacific coast are characteristic of Maritime tropical air moving onto the continent is conditionally mP air in summer. Heating and lifting by frequently. most of it is associated with mT air it is conditionally unstable to higher levels. This moist air is usually warmer. and more moist. during the afternoon and evening.

do.Continental Tropical—Summer ward and northward to cover portions of the The only source regions for continental Central or Western United States. South. Hot Moderate Good during day Fog in morning. This air mass is hot. cool eastern Canada. Moderately do. Rain or drizzle United States lower poor with fog in cumulus layers early morning In summer. Air mass Lapse Temper. Good. setting the stage for serious fire- dry. except in Stratocumulus in hilly Snow flurries in continent. subsidence from aloft. except near None. and may actually be produced by masses are summarized in the following tables. do. Cool do. Warm High do. Variable do. industrial areas and regions. thunderstorms poor with fog in nimbus in afternoon early morning Good Unstable Hot Low except in dust None None storms 135 . and Eastern United States mT at source region Unstable Warm High Good Cumulus Showers mT over Southern Stable in do. Surface Characteristics of Winter Air Masses Precipitation rate ature RH Visibility Clouds cP at source region Stable Cold High Excellent None None cP over mid. South. mP over west do. South. coast mP over Rockies do. waves when it persists for any length of time. industrial areas mountains eastern Canada. It is similar to the upper-level. and causes droughts and heat weather conditions. Showers or snow mountains and during precipitation mP over midcon. South. wildland fuels. Excellent Variable cumulus None tinent. it has a desiccating effect on Southwestern United States. do. Fair in afternoon. and Eastern United States mP at source Stable Cool High Fair Stratus. Because of its tropical air in North America are Mexico and the heat and dryness. except poor Fog or stratus None in areas of fog mP over Rockies Unstable Moderately Moderate Good Cumulus Showers at high cool elevations mP over midcon. cumulus or cumulo. Low Good. Precipitation rate ature Surface RH Visibility Clouds cP at source region Unstable Cool Low Good None or few cumulus None cP over midcon. Warm Low do. do. do. cT air sometimes spreads east- Characteristics of Summer Air Masses Air mass Lapse Temper. subsiding air in the Characteristics of winter and summer air Pacific High. Showers or eastern continent except in showers. do. Stratus and strato. stratocumulus hilly areas and eastern Canada and in snow flurries or cumulus along lee Eastern shores of Great along lee shores of Great Lakes United States Lakes mP at source region Unstable Moderately High Good Cumulus Showers cool . except in None tinent. if any None region mP over west coast do. do. ward side of eastern Canada. do. Stable Mild Low Good. Few cumulus Showers wind tinent. except in do. if any Showers mT central and do. Cumulus. and Appalachians Eastern United States mT at source region do. do. and unstable. do. Good.

As the earth’s surface begins to cool in the covered surfaces at source regions. source regions warm faster than the water or snow. In the spring. The belt of westerlies is farther north circulation. when the general circulation is stronger. and seasonal variations other than just in winter and summer. and warmer than the surface far southward with little modification.air properties very different from those of tropical masses move into the middle latitudes. The general circulation is weaker so that move at a faster rate and penetrate far southward. than in winter. but polar air masses are FRONTS We have seen that polar air masses have continental origin. air masses tend to be more stable in the lower increased instability in the lower layers as air layers. move more slowly and are subject to greater modification. As fall masses leave their source region. the lower layers are gradually cooled. cumulus clouds and possible showers may be formed. This leads to fall. Thus. cold polar air from their source region tend to be cooler than the masses move rapidly away from their source region and penetrate surface during the day. As a rule. cold polar air masses regions. fog In summer. air masses over land and away winter. Water vapor and atmospheric impurities tend to be concentrated in the lower layers. tornadoes. and. however. blocked at high latitudes and do not penetrate far 4. encouraging the formation of fog or low 5. and spending more The temperature contrast between polar and tropical time in transit. If the surface over which an air mass is located is warmer than the air mass. hail. near the surface becomes deeper and more sometimes. 6. If sufficient moisture is present. The increased mixing generally results in good visibility. This increases the stability and retards convective mixing and turbulence. air masses and low stratus clouds will form. persistent. are thus more subject to regions increases. Because the various types of time ocean origin are different from those of air masses. as does the speed of the general modification. and causes progresses and winter approaches. because of the weaker general circulation. and that air masses having a man. During the summer. As a result. 2. it is 136 . convective mixing and turbulence. that there are many variations in individual air masses— variations from day to night. and a lowering of surface relative humidity. In 3. land surfaces away from southward. VARIATIONS IN AIR-MASS WEATHER We have considered the usual characteristics of the principal air masses in winter and in summer. at night. stable cold air considerable thunderstorm activity. and visibility is decreased. During the winter. tropical air masses penetrate far to the north. and thunderstorm activity is reduced. 1. This results in increased instability. the weather characteristics change accordingly from day to night. air masses move more slowly. temperature difference between polar and tropical 7. there is the least stratus clouds. If the surface is colder than the air mass. We must realize. We will consider a few general principles to help us understand these variations. the lower layers will be heated. With sufficient moisture.

this means that Fronts ore classified by the way they move relative to the air masses the wind blows in one direction in the cold air and involved. From a position on a front. a The wind-shift line and pressure trough line discontinuity surface. the front is a warm Instead. is found between provide good clues to the weatherman for the them (see page 129). so that no precipitation occurs with the front. occur in frontal temperature contrast. will be forced over the colder air mass. clockwise direction as a front passes—for example. The moisture contrast mass. or inadequate lifting of this changes in temperature. adding greatly to the difficulty of Usually the cold air mass will be drier than the fire control. Other indications of front location are cloud types. The contrast between the air masses is strongest near the earth’s surface. At a warm a different direction in the warm air. and decreases upward in the atmosphere. The slope varies from about 1/50 to front. the more intense the front. (See sketch. that is. On a surface weather map. being changes. pressure changes. A 1/50 slope means that for every 50 miles pointed cusps. but fronts are formed in troughs of low pressure. The Types of fronts are distinguished by the way rotation of the earth deflects the movement of both they move relative to the air masses involved. a front. from southeast to southwest or from southwest to Since air masses have different densities. gusty winds. and replacing cold air ahead. A temperature discontinuity exists across to fire control. 137 . and the relative movements of the air masses involved. the frontal surface slopes up over the front. Instead. only the intersection of the frontal surface with the earth is indicated. If a the cold and the warm air masses as one tries to front is moving so that cold air is replacing warm overrun or underride the other. cold air is replacing warm air. lighter. as the name location. shown in chapter 6. the warmer air mass.inevitable that they meet somewhere and interact. but there are other indications to Some of the weather conditions most adverse consider. zones. and visibility In a frontal zone. they tend northwest. it is a cold front. The central portions of air masses are usually associated with areas of high pressure. location of fronts. At a cold front. warm air is replacing cold air. warm air mass. we find that the pressure rises both toward the warmer air and toward the colder air.) the difference in wind speed across the front. As a rule. on horizontally. not to mix when they come together. is temporarily stalled. A stationary front. dry frontal zone. If a front is not moving. Cold fronts are indicated on weather maps by 1/300. Sometimes there is insufficient moisture in Weak fronts are characterized by gradual and minor the warm air mass. Because the gradient wind in the Northern Hemisphere always blows with high pressure on the right. the greater and more abrupt the turbulence. the wind shifts in a implies. such as strong. the front is 1 mile higher in the the side toward which they are moving. The amount of slope is dependent upon the ary front is indicated by a combination of both. and prevents the air. A station- vertical. and shifting winds are typical of a may be indicated by the dew-point temperatures. between air masses on different sides of a front Strong. temperature contrast between the two air masses. gusty. whether cold air is replacing warm air at the surface or warm air is replacing cold air. and lightning storms. If the warm air is advancing formation of a horizontal discontinuity surface. At a given front. as one faces downstream. and warm fronts by semicircles. it is a stationary colder air. or front.

there may be little or no Clouds appear in the direction from which the front precipitation and few or no clouds. This Since cold fronts are usually steeper and move increases the steepness of the frontal surface and faster than warm fronts. stratus-type clouds and steady rain occur. fronts usually vary between 1/50 to 1/150. scattered showers and weather. thunderstorms about 10 to 40 m. In frontal may occur for some distance ahead of the front. Temperature and dew point relatively stable. the accompanying band of causes a cold front to have a blunted appearance weather is narrower. The severity mass is a cold front. If the warm air is moist and it may end quickly and be followed by clearing conditionally unstable. with the heaviest rainfall near the frontal zone and immediately following. Then the surface cold front. If the warm air is conditionally unstable. Because of surface friction. is approaching. Usually. showers and thunderstorms are likely. It forms a wedge which of the weather associated with cold fronts depends pushes under a warm air mass forcing the warm air upon the moisture and stability of the warm air. they are oriented wide band over the frontal surface and extend for in a northeast-southwest direction. rain clouds of the stratus type form in a and speed of cold fronts. the heaviest precipitation and the heaviest precipitation may occur ahead of usually occurs with the passage of the front. reaches its lowest point as the front passes. is more severe and occupies a narrower band. If the warm air is moist and stable. the southerly warm air is fairly dry and the temperature contrast winds increase in the warm air ahead of the front. If the warm air is to the east and southeast. If the As a cold front approaches. 138 . at speeds varying from moist and conditionally unstable. With slow-moving cold fronts and stable There are wide variations in the orientation warm air. may form.h. Clouds and precipitation cover a wide bond and extend some distance behind slow-moving cold fronts. and the speed of the front. zones with precipitation. overcast skies and precipitation are lower after the cold front passes. If the warm air is the cold front passes. more severe. the lowest steepness of the front. The slopes of cold shorter duration than with warm fronts. the weather falls. The then rises sharply. across the front is small. and they move some distance behind the front. The barometric pressure usually With rapidly moving cold fronts. and faster in the winter. and usually of when viewed in cross-section.p. thunderstorms form just ahead of the cold front. layers of the cold air are slowed down.Cold Fronts There are many exceptions to the foregoing The leading edge of an advancing cold air general pattern of cold-front passages. Winds become strong and gusty disturbance is also of shorter duration than that and shift sharply to westerly or northwesterly as caused by a slow-moving front. the to rise.

Along those present before the squall line approached. With rapidly moving cold fronts. The weather usually clears rapidly behind a fast. gusty winds of Dry cold fronts often cause very severe fire the cold-front passage combine with the dry foehn weather in many sections. gusty winds without any high elevations to low elevations and has foehn precipitation. Dry cold-front passages wind to the rear of the front to produce a short- may occur in any region. the showers and thunderstorms are are. ahead of. unstable air creates serious fire weather. gusty. the polar air mass following the cold front are flatter than cold fronts. associated with the subsequent cold front. scattered showers and thunderstorms form just ahead of the cold front. second of two cold fronts passing through the moving cold front. providing. 139 . but the air Under some conditions. having slopes ranging may become quite unstable because of surface from 1/100 to 1/300. of course. The warm air is overtaking Southern Canada or the Northern States may be and replacing the cold air. Warm fronts addition. at times. heating by the time it reaches the Southeast. The dry. the Pacific coast. Because of this flatness. as in this case. with colder temperatures and Southeast in rapid succession also tends to be dry. gusty winds and area ahead of the front. cloudiness and precipitation extend over a broad The combination of strong. characteristics. that dry. a cold front The leading edge of an advancing warm air mass associated with a Low passing eastward across is called a warm front. the second cold-front passage may be is called a squall line. the temperature. may be moist and produce precipitation. Thus. This Therefore. from a northeasterly direction. and roughly parallel to. The weather associated with dry and will be the more serious from the fire- squall lines is often more severe than that control standpoint. After the passage of the squall line. shifting. the winds behind such cold fronts Occasionally. but they are a major lived but extremely critical fire-weather condition. a cold front. problem in the Southeast. The there is sufficient moisture in the warm air. turbulent surface winds following the frontal The warm air mass ahead of the first cold front passage. a line of showers and mass between the first and second fronts usually thunderstorms is formed from 50 to 300 miles will not have had time to acquire much moisture. wind. trailing ends of cold fronts cause and pressure usually revert to conditions similar to serious fire weather wherever they occur. the weather is mare severe and occupies a narrower band. The strong. This scattered along the squall line so that some areas offshore direction means that the air flows from experience strong. If the warm air is moist and conditionally unstable. In sliding up over the wedge of cold air. Cold fronts tend to be drier farther away from the low-pressure center Warm Fronts with which they are associated. but at the same time very dry as it passes through the Southeast.

altocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds form. This steady type and increases gradually with the sequence may be interrupted by short clearing approach of the surface front. If the warm air above a warm front is moist and stable. thunderstorms will be embedded in the cloud masses. Rain before the warm front has been felt at lower falling through the cold air raises the humidity to elevation stations. If the warm air above a warm front is moist and conditionally unstable. thin. but the appearance of successively lower and more difficult to locate on weather maps. The sequence is cirrus. 140 . low stratus clouds. warm front. This cloud types indicates the steady approach of the is particularly true in rough terrain where high. Rains may precede the arrival of the elevation areas may extend up into the warm air surface warm front by as much as 300 miles. clouds are of the stratus type. The sequence of cloud types is cirrus. altostratus. type. the saturation level and causes the formation of The first indication of the approach of warm. and nimbostratus. Precipitation is steady and increases gradually with the approach of a front. Precipitation is a darken and thicken as precipitation begins. Often. and nimbostratus. cirrostratus and stable. the clouds which form are of the stratus clouds which give the sky a milky appearance. Warm fronts are less distinct than cold fronts periods. moist air in the upper levels ahead of the surface If the warm air above the warm front is moist warm front may be very high. cirrostratus. cirrostratus. These are followed by middle-level clouds which altostratus.

but in opposite accompany a warm front. directions. or a change in the wind field cause by local convection. the influence of an upper- level trough. temperatures rise. warm from an easterly to a southerly direction as a warm air. it grows until it becomes topheavy and breaks. warm fronts associated with moist air are a real benefit. form. If the air is dry. The pressure at the peak of the frontal wave falls. conditionally unstable. warm air. After it passes. When a section of a front is disturbed. and a low-pressure center with 141 . When the forces acting on two adjacent air Frontal Waves and Occlusions A frontal surface is similar to a water surface. If the air is moist. there may be little strong or gusty with the approach of warm fronts as cloudiness or precipitation. This disturbance may be a topographic irregularity. and clouds diminish or area is likely to be broader than that associated with vanish completely. frequently. A disturbance such as wind can cause the formation of waves on the water. Weather conditions occurring with a stationary front are variable. If the warm air is moist and conditionally masses are such that the frontal zone shows little unstable. as we will see in the next section. or showers and thunderstorms with front passes. indicated on weather maps by alternate sharp cusps and This deformation is called a frontal wave. usually they are The rate of movement of warm fronts is about similar to those found with a warm front. Waves usually form on stationary fronts or slow-moving cold fronts. there with cold fronts. Similarly. the warm air begins to flow up over and displace some of the cold air. The precipitation precipitation usually stops. though half that of cold fronts. If the wave moves toward the shoreline. Stationary fronts are front. and. reducing the fire danger. and usually is sufficient to thoroughly on the air masses develops. but in opposite directions. the front is called a stationary front. altocumulus and cumulonimbus clouds movement. Thus. but not as extensive as with a warm front. Stationary fronts may quickly change back to The accompanying precipitation is widespread and moving fronts as a slight imbalance of forces acting long-lasting. Winds are usually not as less intense. along frontal surfaces in the atmosphere a disturbance may form a wave. or a frontal wave Stationary Fronts may develop. causing changing winds and weather conditions at a given location. From the standpoint of fire weather. It may become a cold or warm front. and the adjacent section like a cold front. The shift in wind is generally may be continuous precipitation with stable. Cold air to the rear of the disturbance displaces some of the warm air. A stationary front may moisten forest fuels. oscillate back and forth. a cold front. semicircles on apposite sides of the front. thunderstorms will be Surface winds on either side of the front tend to embedded in the cloud masses that normally blow parallel to the front. where winds on the two sides of the front are blowing parallel to the front with a strong shearing motion. one section of the front begins to act like a warm Surface winds on either side of a stationary front tend to blow parallel to the front.

the warm front. The weather and winds with the passage of a cold-front occlusion are similar to those with a cold front. the cold front does not return to strong winds around the Low Usually the system is the surface. the weather and cloud sequence is much like that associated with warm fronts. the cold front moves by a succession of warm-front occlusions that faster than the warm front and eventually overtakes move in from the Pacific. The mentioned. After the cold front overtakes the worm front. air mass. D. which is occlusion is much like that of a warm front. Ahead of the occlusion. With moist and may develop into a major cyclonic system. a very cold air mass is located east of the becomes quite low in the occluded system with mountains. and warm air ahead tends to override front. the thunderstorms and. condition is produced that will result in numerous the cyclonic circulation diminishes in intensity. The heaviest precipitation occurs to thundershowers. when the cold The life cycle of a frontal wave includes the following steps: A. The usually toward the east or northeast. Most warm-front occlusions are found along the west coast. the passage of a warm-front direction of the wind flow in the warm air. The air mass to the rear is warmer than the air mass ahead. and southeastern Alaska is dominated As the system moves. low-pressure center begins to fill. it rides up the disturbed section of a front. 142 . an occlusion has characteristics of both warm-front occlusion is formed and the system enters its dying phases. the cold air. A front overtakes the warm front. Cold-front weather occurs formed. Then. Quite frequently in intensity of the wave cyclone. The pressure winter. At the surface. B. There are two types of occluded fronts— a warm-front type and a cold-front type—depending on whether the surface air ahead of the occlusion is warmer or colder than the air to the rear. If the pressure continues to fall. Cold fronts approaching the Rocky resulting combined front is called an occlusion or Mountains from the west are forced to rise and occluded front. Therefore. rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. British Columbia. tornadoes. A cyclonic circulation is established and pressure falls at the crest of The weather associated with a warm-front the wave. but rides aloft over the cold air as an accompanied by widespread cloudiness and upper cold front often accompanied by precipitation. This is the time of maximum cross over the mountains. thunderstorms may Low and its frontal wave generally move in the occur. C. the wave near the upper cold front. The sequence of clouds and weather ahead of the occlusion is similar to a counterclockwise (cyclonic) circulation is that of a warm front. and underrides it. especially the central and eastern regions. a very unstable As the occlusion continues to grow in length. The conditionally unstable air. Cold air begins to displace warm air warm-front surface and becomes an upper cold to the rear of the disturbance. and the portion to the rear becomes a cold front. and cold-front weather. and the frontal movement slows down. The front ahead of the disturbance becomes a warm front. The warm air is forced aloft between the cold air behind the cold front and the Another type of upper cold front should be retreating cold air ahead of the warm front. occasionally. The cold-front type is predominant over most of the continent. When such a front meets an mT the north of the low-pressure center.

A cross section through a cold-front occlusion shows the warm air Cold fronts crossing the Rocky Mountains from the west are forced having been lifted above the two colder air masses. frontal passages are dry and moist air masses are formed over tropical waters. In the following chapter. we will weather changes. and strong and shifting characteristics are uniform. considerable weather is concentrated. Different cloud types are their source regions. 143 . meet. as air masses leave their associated with stability and instability. SUMMARY When air stagnates in a region where surface Cloudiness. but rides aloft ever the cold air as an upper cold front. But. cold. a very cold cold air is displacing cool air. The cold front then does with the frontal passage are similar to those with a cold front. cold. Quite frequently in winter. At the surface. The frontal activity takes place above the cold air. it acquires those winds are characteristic of frontal passages. The weather and winds associated air moss is located east of the mountains. dry air masses over the northern continent. precipitation. they are modified according to the cloud sequences are characteristic of different surface over which they travel. occasionally. but. not return to the surface. adversely affect fire behavior. where differing air masses precipitation processes that develop in clouds. to rise over the mountains. discuss types of clouds more fully and examine the In frontal zones. dry air masses over arid regions. characteristics and becomes an air mass. In discussing many of the topics so far. and the air-mass frontal systems. Warm. moist air masses over the northern oceans. been necessary to mention different types of clouds Air masses have characteristic weather in from time to time. it has and warm. and certain source regions.

Some clouds develop into full-blown thunderstorms with fire-starting potential and often disastrous effects on fire behavior. Clouds. and severity of local fire seasons. Chapter 9 CLOUDS AND PRECIPITATION Fire weather is usually fair weather. The appearance of clouds during the fire season may have good portent or bad. Overcast skies shade the surface and thus temper forest flammability. ending. Severe burning conditions are not erased easily. The amount of precipitation and its seasonal distribution are important factors in controlling the beginning. Extremely dry forest fuels may undergo superficial moistening by rain in the forenoon. fog. 144 . but may preclude the use of prescribed fire for useful purposes. but may dry out quickly and become flammable again during the afternoon. This is good from the wildfire standpoint. Prolonged periods with lack of clouds and precipitation set the stage for severe burning conditions by increasing the availability of dead fuel and depleting soil moisture necessary for the normal physiological functions of living plants. and precipitation do not predominate during the fire season.

or a mixture of the two in sufficient quantities to make the mass discernible. CLOUDS AND PRECIPITATION Clouds consist of minute water droplets. 145 . 1 inch of rain is equivalent to nearly 8 billion tons of water. One inch of rainfall over an acre weighs about 113 tons. Over an area the size of Oregon.’s of latent heat is released to the atmosphere. The total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is very large. We must look into the processes by which clouds are formed and precipitation is produced in order to understand the meaning and portent of clouds as they relate to fire weather.t. and what kinds of precipitation certain types of clouds produce. ice crystals. Some clouds are pretty. But we need to look beyond these aesthetic qualities. others are dull. All of this water comes from condensation of vapor in the atmosphere. It has been estimated that the amount carried across the land by air currents is more than six times the amount of water carried by all our rivers. For each ton of water that condenses. Some produce precipitation and become an ally to the firefighter. It becomes obvious that tremendous quantities of water and energy are involved in the formation of clouds and precipitation. Clouds are visible evidence of atmospheric moisture and atmospheric motion. The total amount of water vapor that flows across the land on air currents originating over water is estimated to be more than six times the water carried by all our rivers. almost 2 million B. and some are foreboding.u. We will see how clouds are classified and named. Those that indicate instability may serve as a warning to the fire-control man.

Thus the temperature Moist air may be cooled to its dew point and become saturated as it Air can become saturated by the addition of moisture. 146 . and the resultant adiabatic reached. it is forced example. ground surface by radiation. form several hundred or even a thousand or more As cold air passes over warm water. the atmospheric vapor pressure is equal to the The more important method of reaching saturation vapor pressure at the existing saturation. dry air passes over warm water. If the winds are strong. is temperature and pressure. and clouds will the lowering of air temperature. and saturation is quickly Lifting of air. reflecting the decreasing absolute humidity with expansion. Nighttime cooling of the may occur by evaporation as cold. The air cools at the dry-adiabatic the warm clouds above the front evaporates in the rate of 5. per thousand feet. fog is saturation. This passes over cool and or water surfaces. while the dew cold air beneath and forms scud clouds. The cooling takes place near the produce 100 percent relative humidity. In chapter 3 we learned that at saturation plane’s exhaust. with light wind conditions. In order for clouds to form and precipitation made by high-flying aircraft are a type of cloud to develop. or frontal action. they will moisture to the air. is the most important cooling method. beneath a warm front. Rain falling from aloft and cools. by lowering air temperature. It produces most of cloudiness and frequently causes rain or snow to the clouds and precipitation. or. and the subsequent cooling of adjacent moist air. the lee of the lakes. Contrails point lowers only about 1°F. for heated surface air becomes buoyant. or as warm rain from above a front foils through cold air beneath the front. per thousand feet.5°F. evaporation takes place. Warm. warmer Great Lakes in the fall and early winter The lifting may be accomplished by thermal. gathers large amounts of moisture and produces orographic. rapid feet above the surface. or surface so that. Saturation may also be Local heating will result in thermal lifting. however. more importantly. moist air ways in which the atmospheric vapor pressure and may be cooled to its dew point by passing over a saturation vapor pressure attain the same value to cold surface. the atmosphere must be saturated with formed by the addition of moisture from the moisture. may produce saturation and fog. These are through the addition of formed. There are two principal accomplished in several ways. Cold continental polar air crossing the expansion. As reached when warm rain falls through cold air. through cause mixing of the cooled air.

This showers. or frontal. As an example. In fact. a common method of estimating the condensation and visible clouds. Continued rising would produce form. base of cumulus clouds formed. would have been reached as the humidity would be saturation will be reached and cumulus clouds will 100 percent. and dew-point temperatures 4. and a relative humidity of 54 surfaces.. orographic. If the air rose to an altitude of 4. be scattered in geographic extent.5.000 feet. If the locally heated air would all have decreased to 62°F.. suppose we begin with heated Rainfall associated with thermal lifting is likely to air at the surface having a temperature of 84°F. usually in the Thermal lifting is most pronounced in the summer months. by thermal convection in the warm seasons. Saturation contains enough moisture and rises far enough. Lifting may be thermal.5°F. gives the approximate height of the cloud base in continued heating develops cumuli-form clouds thousands of feet. the highest peaks and ridges. dew-point the greatest convective activity is over the hottest temperature of 66° F. that result in heavier showers and thunderstorms. per thousand feet. In mountain country. wet-bulb. it is greatest over percent. and dew point approach each other at the rate of the dry-bulb. wet-bulb temperature of 71°F. depending on stability.. The most important method of cooling air to saturation is adiabatic cooling because of lifting. More frequently. In flat country. It may turn morning stratus clouds lower layers is to divide the difference between the into stratocumulus with the possibility of light surface air temperature and dew point by 4. 147 .

The Coast Ranges. As in thermal lifting. hills. The lee slopes and adjacent and precipitation. maritime polar air flowing in Similarly in the East. maritime tropical air from the Pacific Ocean produces winter clouds and that has moved into the central portion of the precipitation as it is lifted over the mountain United States and Southern Canada is lifted and ranges. Orographic lifting. Sierra-Cascades. the wet-bulb 71°F. saturation would b.. air moves eastward. and Rocky Mountains. and mountain the western slopes. Lifting of moist air over mountain ranges is an important process in producing clouds and precipitation.000 feet above the surface. Lowlands to east of the ranges are comparatively dry. and the dew point 66°F. is an important process in producing clouds heaviest precipitation.. In the West. and it is these that receive the ranges. the air is valleys and plains receive progressively less as the cooled by the adiabatic process. in which air is forced up systems involved. If the temperature at the surface of a thermally lifted parcel of air was 84°F. reached at 4. and produces precipitation in the Appalachian Rocky Mountains are the principal mountain 148 .. Lifting in each case occurs on the windward side of slopes. In the West the winter precipitation is heaviest on the western slopes of the Coast Ranges. Sierra- Cascades.

Thermal lifting usually produces cumulus clouds. 149 . Continued heating in moist air will result in showers and possibly thunderstorms.

Lifting of warm. like other surfaces. upward.Mountains as it progresses eastward. East of into an area that moves out. . Other air intense rainfall from cumulonimbus clouds along masses. moist air. warm fronts. produces widespread cloudiness and precipitation. polar. does not immediately result from this cause. is usually more scattered mountains if they have acquired sufficient moisture and of a shorter duration than that produced by a before being lifted. accounts for much cloudiness of lifting which produces clouds and precipitation. typically produce steady rains over lifting mechanisms. as it is forced up the slope of a Bottom—The steepness and speed of cold fronts result in a narrow warm front. warm front. as air is forced up the slope of Convergence is another important method warm or cold fronts. moist air ahead of the front is lifted. 150 . more air moves horizontally many regions during all seasons of the year. The excess is forced the Rockies and along the west coast. convergence. Even when precipitation steeper and faster moving leading surfaces. carries large quantities of extensive areas. with characteristically moisture to higher levels. band of cloudiness and precipitation as warm. and precipitation in all regions in the winter and in During convergence. however. Frontal lifting. Since moisture is concentrated in the because of the gradual slope of their frontal lower atmospheric levels. Cold fronts. frequently produce more subsequent Top. such as continental polar and maritime the front or along a squall line ahead of the front. will also cause precipitation in these This rainfall.

We have seen dew formed on grass effective at different below-freezing temperatures. SUBLIMATION. low-pressure areas are usually areas of cloudiness and precipitation. Here. We have noticed the condensation of crystallline materials. We winter. and we used the free air. lifting may be CONDENSATION. Nighttime fog and drizzle in maritime tropical (mT) air that The circulation around a low-pressure area causes horizontal converging of air at low levels and lifting of air near the center. process becomes more complicated.precipitation triggered by other processes may be assisted by orographic lifting in mountain areas. occurred. Because of differences in our breath on cold days. consist of dust. Condensation nuclei. AND PRECIPITATION PROCESSES We discussed earlier in chapters 1 and 3 some of water vapor into frost on cold window panes in of the aspects of condensation and sublimation. additional nuclei and have noticed the sublimation become active in the sublimation process. different nuclei are boiling water. on which ice crystals We are all familiar with condensation and form. We have discussed various methods by which air becomes saturated and condensation and precipitation are produced. the circulation around a low-pressure system results in convergence. reached. With more air flowing toward the center than away from it. but we must remember that in most cases two or more of these methods are acting at the same time. Sublimation nuclei. Dew and particles are of two types: condensation nuclei and frost do form that way. there is a corresponding upward flow of air. Still more droplets of sulfuric acid. and the convergence of thermal winds all acting together. and combustion products. complex are the processes of precipitation where They are usually abundant in the atmosphere so cloud particles must grow to a large enough size to that cloud droplets form when saturation is fall out by gravity. On a small scale. and of steam rising from composition and structure. For this reason. but cloud particles are sublimation nuclei. friction deflects the flow toward the center. Daytime cumulus clouds over mountains may be produced by heating. As the temperature decreases. convergence occurs during the daytime over mountain peaks and ridges as thermal up-slope winds from opposing sides meet at the top. For moves from the Gulf of Mexico into the Plains this reason. or much more intense than if convergence had not by convergence in low-pressure areas and troughs. consist of salt particles. Frontal convergence. As we discussed in chapter 5. volcanic ash. orographic lifting. a particle or nucleus must be present for simple examples the impaction of water vapor for water-vapor molecules to cling to. Frontal lifting is frequently combined with orographic lifting and nighttime cooling. and other sublimation. and here the liquid cloud droplets form. These 151 . low-pressure areas usually are areas of cloudiness and regions may be the result of a combination of precipitation. These fine molecules on a liquid or solid surface. at night. were concerned with the change of state of water For condensation or sublimation to occur in from gaseous to liquid or solid forms. on which formed in the free atmosphere. or on cold water pipes and cold glasses.

As the at intermediate temperatures they may be made up relative humidity increases. The condensation process is unable to the case of condensation. can be produced by sublimation alone. Once sublimation starts. freezing temperature. droplets continue and supersaturation. and dense enough so that the mass the atmosphere. usually there are sufficient hygroscopic nuclei so Given the necessary conditions of below- that the others do not have a chance. droplets. Since there are fewer sublimation supersaturation decreases and the cloud approaches than condensation nuclei available. the size of small drizzle sublimation nucleus. as droplets that form grow to a greater size than water droplets grow. They may absorb water 32°F. Also. More commonly in The small particles that act as condensation the atmosphere though. while haze develops which reduces visibility. these usually are scarce in diameter. the ice crystals an equilibrium state at saturation. and that condensation can begin at relative humidities many thousands of droplets per cubic inch will well under 100 percent while sublimation requires form. becomes visible. but saturation. and a are usually composed mostly of ice crystals. the mass of water vapor changing to liquid and can fall from the base of the cloud. or both. becomes large and the resultant latent heat released Only very light snow. temperatures as low as —40°F. sublimation starts by direct to grow until they reach a maximum size of about transfer of water vapor to the solid phase on a 1/100 inch in diameter. these particles take on of supercooled droplets. As ice crystals will grow freely under conditions of vapor is used up in droplet formation.nuclei are not as plentiful as condensation nuclei. one or more of the have gone as far as they can. some additional precipitation processes must come into play. At temperatures much below 15°F. If growth to raindrop After condensation or sublimation processes size is to take place. of clouds do not produce rain. Rapid cooling of the air. another reason why vapor condenses into liquid Under such conditions droplets grow rapidly. above 32°F. such as in Also. to a size large enough to fall freely from the cloud An important phenomenon in the physics of and reach the ground as snow or rain. We process is necessary for droplets or crystals to grow will discuss these later. Cloud condensation and precipitation is that liquid cloud droplets. more water and grow in size while condensation Why don’t ice crystals form more readily? also begins on smaller nuclei. the First. or rain if the crystals in the condensation process warms the droplet and melt. clouds are composed only of liquid sometimes at humidities as low as 80 percent. At temperatures well before the humidity reaches saturation. the formation of ice crystals at temperatures particles have become large enough to be classed as higher than —40°F. because of their small size and consequent droplets form and persist at temperatures slight pull of gravity. Although ice melts at 32°F. is small nuclei become active and start to grow. many types of nuclei are effective only at strong upward currents. supersaturation. they have a liquid down to about 15°F. Thus the vast majority precipitation processes in addition to sublimation. As condensation proceeds. very droplets. requires sublimation nuclei. Even at temperatures well below freezing.. especially at higher elevations. effective sublimation nuclei. that is.. As fog or cloud droplets. There is no haze phase as in drops. 152 . averaging 1/2500— inch in was mentioned above. they Condensation forms first on the larger nuclei. With supersaturation even nonhygroscopic at least saturation conditions and usually super- particles will serve as condensation nuclei. there water can be cooled much below this before it frequently are too few effective nuclei to initiate changes to ice. Liquid droplets below chemical affinity for water. But over 100 percent—supersaturation—temporarily. decreases the vapor pressure difference between it Moderate or heavy precipitation requires one of the and the surrounding vapor. well below freezing. Near saturation. Liquid cloud droplets can exist at more than a scattering of ice crystals. rather than sub-limes into ice crystals. are said to be supercooled. produce larger droplets for several reasons. can produce humidities of temperatures considerably below freezing. cloud droplets remain nuclei are usually hygroscopic. ice crystals.

have a negligible rate of fall. then it is supersaturated with respect to ice.038 119 10 . If the snowflakes reach warmer levels. and the ice crystals will grow rapidly. It has been We have seen that ice crystals and cloud found that silver-iodide crystals. As expense of water droplets. For the ice-crystal process of sublimation nuclei in super-cooled clouds at precipitation to take place. One is the ice- crystal process and the other is the coalescence The knowledge that frequently there is a process.110 . Because of the difference in vapor the ice crystals gather up vapor molecules in the pressure over ice and over water at the same temperature. the ice crystals size from about 1/50 inch to 1/5 inch in diameter. pressure with respect to ice is somewhat less than which has a melting temperature of -108°F.045 0.166 .U71 . the relative humidity with respect to water ice crystals in mixed clouds. and liquid cloud droplets begin purposes are suspended in the air. can be effective temperatures. which have a droplets can coexist in clouds with subfreezing structure similar to ice crystals. grow at the expense of the water droplets and may Drops larger than 1/5 inch tend to break up when attain a size large enough to fall out of the cloud as they fall. and the relative humidity with respect to ice is greater than 100 percent. Raindrops range in crystals and crystallize there. This is the ice- diameter. a vapor- pressure gradient exists between supercooled water droplets and cloud.. solid carbon respect to liquid water. Silver-iodide composed of both ice crystals and supercooleci crystals can be released in the cloud by aircraft or liquid cloud droplets.) (Inches of mercury) (Percent) 0 0. Vapor molecules move to the ice droplets seem to float in the air. into the cloud from above. crystal precipitation process. The dry ice. ice crystals grow at the crystals. and for all practical below 100 percent. saturation vapor pressure at some length. or carried to the cloud by convection from In chapter 3 we discussed vapor pressure and ground generators. as shown in the following table: Comparative Saturation Vapor Pressures Over Water and Ice Relative Tempera. but we Ice crystals can be created in a supercooled considered only saturation vapor pressure with (‘loud by dropping pellets of dry ice. Thus.104 106 30 . cools that with respect to super-cooled water at the same droplets along its path to temperature temperature.063 112 20 .Saturation vapor pressure humidity ture over Over water Over ice ice (°F. scarcity of sublimation nuclei and ice crystals in supercooled clouds has led to the discovery that The Ice-Crystal Process precipitation can be initiated artificially. It takes about 30 million cloud droplets of snowflakes. The force resulting from the difference between vapor pressure over water and over ice causes vapor molecules to be attracted to ice In the ice-crystal precipitation process. The saturation vapor dioxide. clouds must be temperatures below about 20°F. Vapor molecules leave the water drops droplets and sublime on the ice crystals. Even drizzle to evaporate. average size to make one raindrop about 1/8 inch in they melt and become raindrops. 153 .164 101 If a cloud containing supercooled water droplets is saturated with respect to water. There seem to be two processes which act together or separately to cause millions of cloud Artificial Nucleation droplets to grow into a raindrop. rockets.

type of cloud formation. The larger into snowflake masses in a similar manner. These clouds are spread appearance. Cumuliform clouds develop in form clouds and have a billowy or heaped-up air that is initially unstable or becomes appearance. The word fractus is High clouds. but we need be In addition. they tend to sweep out the which we sometimes observe. the word nimbus is used as a concerned only with the more basic types. Coalescence Since rain also falls from clouds which are entirely above freezing. We will prefix or suffix to indicate clouds producing consider four families of clouds distinguished by precipitation—resulting in such names as nim- their height of occurrence: bostratus or cumulonimbus. Snowflakes coalesce with other collecting process as they become larger. cloud droplets grow at the expense of smaller ones. These are known as cumuli. some of so that the large drops fall because of gravity. they act as nucleating particles themselves and affect other parts of the cloud. cloud droplets move continues until enough droplets are accumulated into large drops about at different speeds.lower than —40°F. A stable layer which rents which carry moist air upward beyond the remains stable through forced lifting will develop condensation level. Once formed in a supercooled water cloud. 154 . or coalesce. and their altitude. Clouds are of air. In the coalescence process of precipitation. This is a simple process in which cloud droplets collide and fuse together. Once crystals are produced. Studies have provided evidence that the artificial nucleation of super-cooled clouds can. small droplets collide and fuse together to become larger droplets. and clouds used to identify clouds broken into fragments by with vertical development. low clouds. Snowflakes coalesce them stick together to form larger drops. subdivisions: Air stability has an important effect on the 1. under the proper conditions. middle clouds. Clouds formed by localized vertical cur. into many types and subtypes. Clouds formed by the lifting of entire layers necessary to classify and name them. They are classified out in layers or sheets and are called stratiform. strong winds—such as stratus fractus and cumulus Within the first three families are two main fractus. KINDS OF CLOUDS In order to recognize and identify clouds it is 2. local vertical currents. increase local precipitation significantly. As larger snowflakes as they fall to form the large clumps drops begin to fall. ice crystals may grow by the ice-crystal process and coalescence processes until they are large enough to precipitate. content and condensation is reached. The process Because of the different sizes. Clouds which produce precipitation are composed of cloud droplets of varying sizes. there must be a second precipitation process. until identified by their development. As they collide. without strong. coalesce with supercooled water droplets to form The coalescence process takes place in clouds of snow pellets. so that they can freeze into ice crystals without the presence of sublimation nuclei. both above-freezing and below-freezing and actually become more effective in the temperatures. They may also smaller drops ahead of them. stratiform clouds.

Cirrus clouds are thin.” True cirrocumulus are rare and are associated with other forms of typical cirrus at the High Clouds same level. feathery clouds in patches or narrow bands.” 155 . trailing streams of larger ice crystals beneath them. Thus. Cirrus. A layer of conditionally Cirrus are isolated wisps of thin. Halos around are usually composed entirely of ice crystals. cirrostratus clouds are included in this family. white cloud elements. feathery unstable air which is forced to ascend may first cloud up near the top of the troposphere. They are sometimes referred to as clouds are formed. They sometimes covering the entire sky. They are composed of ice crystals of varying size. to 45. frequently identify this cloud type. The cumuliform clouds project upward from a Cirrocumulus clouds consist of patches of stratiform cloud layer.000 feet.unstable when it is lifted. cirrocumulus. Larger crystals often trail down vertically and have given rise to the name “mares’ tails. “mackerel sky. They are develop stratiform clouds and then develop sometimes called “mares’ tails” and may have cumuliform clouds as the layer becomes unstable. and Cirrostratus clouds are thin. composition. They may form formation can be used as an indicator of the definite patterns at times. white. often changing into other forms of High clouds have bases ranging from 16. whitish veils. and the sun or moon.500 cirrus in a short time. the type of cloud small. showing small but firm stability of the atmospheric layer in which the waves or ripples. caused by their ice-crystal this is their most distinguishing characteristic.

white individual puffs. transparent cloud layer appearing as a sheet or veil. It generally produces a halo around the sun or moon. Cirrocumulus is rare and is sometimes called “mackerel sky. whitish. Cirrocumulus clouds contain small.” Cirrostratus is a thin. 156 . They may contain some supercooled water droplets mixed in with the ice crystals.

often supercooled. Middle Clouds Altostratus appears as a gray or bluish layer Middle clouds have bases ranging from 6. Sometimes they are associated with the jet stream Altocumulus are white or gray patches. Altocumulus clouds are usually composed of water droplets.000 feet. sometimes develop with thunderstorms.500 or veil with a sort of fibrous texture. the more distinct moisture and wind direction and speed. and the sun will shine lifting. with and usually are found on the south side of the jet. Cirrus-type clouds may be produced in in other ways. It tends generally formed by either frontal or orographic to cover the entire sky. They are distinguished from cirrocumulus by the larger size of the cloud elements. the stronger the wind. Altocumulus and altostratus made up of supercooled water droplets or a clouds fall into this group. The value of cirrus clouds in fire cloudlets or in definite patterns such as bands or weather is their advance warning of warm-front rows parallel or at right angles to the wind. It may be feet up to 20. activity and their use in indicating high-altitude Usually. but may contain some ice crystals at very low temperatures. Often they are the forerunner of lifting by convergence in upper-air troughs and warm-front activity and give advance warning. Altocumulus may appear as irregular thunderstorms. Altocumulus are white or gray patches or rolls of solid cloud. 157 . but may be formed through dimly as through a frosted glass. Middle clouds are most mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. the pattern. Often they are associated with several ways. Altocumulus are usually composed of water droplets and often are supercooled. each individual component having a rounded They may also be produced from the anvil tops of appearance.

By this chilling. range. usually becomes obscured. 158 . They indicate marked instability enough. the sun cumuliform masses in the form of turrets. As the droplets and crystals evaporate. If it becomes dense and low arranged in lines. it becomes nimbostratus and takes on a at high levels. it is called virga. Lenticular clouds indicate waves in the air below because they contain droplets and ice flow caused by strong winds blowing across the crystals. The pendulous blobs of appears over the ridge and to the lee of mountain cloud are sinking into the clear air immediately ranges. upwind side of the wave crest and dissipate in the they keep the air denser than the surrounding clear downward flow on the other side. If the precipitation evaporates before the afternoon. Light rain or snow often falls from it. reaching the ground. considerable importance in identifying weather They are most common on the underside of conditions. Clouds with rounded lower surfaces in the Three special types of middle clouds are of form of pouches or udders are called mamma. and their occurrence in the forenoon wet and rainy appearance due to widespread is a warning of possible thunderstorm activity in precipitation. The clouds form in the rising current on the they chill the air in the pendants. The process ends when all The castellanus type of cloud consists of Altostratus appears as a gray or bluish layer having a fibrous appearance. As altostratus becomes thicker and lower. often associated with altocumulus. The lens-shaped lenticular cloud cumulonimbus anvils. Frequently. it is composed of a mixture of supercooled water droplets and ice crystals. air.

effect on the moisture content of forest fuels. forenoon. any adjacent thunderstorms inversion and are fairly thin. ranging from a few will have zones of marked turbulence. it becomes a stratus layer. but occasionally only virga appears. cloud particles have evaporated. Low clouds include stratus. referred to as high fog. Fog is simply a stratus cloud lying on the surface.500 feet. layer usually accompanied by continuously falling rain or snow. It is composed of water droplets and does not produce Low Clouds rain. Fog occurs clouds often appear beneath the nimbostratus layer. Pilots have Stratus and stratocumulus are very common reported that the downdrafts within mamma are and widespread. localities. and nimbostratus. In some stratocumulus. However. Lower ragged clouds often appear beneath the nimbostratus layer. often dark. It is thick enough to blot out the sun. The precipitation usually reaches the Fog is important in fire weather because of its ground. uniform sheet. although it may produce drizzle. Stratus forms a low. conditions are and lowering alto-stratus. particularly the west coast. as it frequently does during the surface to 6. They usually occur beneath an quite weak. Stratus fractus or scud favorable for fuels to absorb moisture. When a The bases of low clouds range from the fog layer lifts. during calm or light-wind 159 . hundred to a few thousand feet thick. stratus is Nimbostratus clouds form a gray. Nimbostratus is a gray or dark massive cloud layer diffused by more-or-less continuous rain or snow which usually reaches the ground. Nimbostratus usually develops from thickening While fog is forming or persisting. dull gray in appearance.

Stratus is a low. although it may cause some drizzle or snow grains. 160 . gray cloud layer with a fairly uniform base and top. Stratus often forms by the lifting of a layer of fog. Stratocumulus clouds consist of gray or bluish patches or layers with individual tolls or rounded masses. They are generally composed of small water droplets and may produce light drizzle. Usually it does not produce precipitation.

whereas stratus forms in stable thickness. moist air. and individual cloud bases are at about the mT air moves northwestward from the Gulf of same altitude. This type occurs especially cauliflower appearance. ice crystals may appear in the tops of larger cumulus. Like stratus. Strato- air cools to its dew point at night over a strongly cumulus shows individual rolls or rounded masses. Cumulus clouds are cold air near the surface saturates the cold air. and the upper portion often resembles a cauliflower. radiating surface. Upslope fog forms cumulus and cumulonimbus. They are composed of a great density of small water droplets. formed near the top of rising convection columns. 161 . stable air is forced to rise along a shaped masses with domes or turrets and have a sloping land surface. They usually appear in along the western edge of the Great Plains when groups. which is the Mexico. it is composed of small water air passes over a cool surface and its temperature is droplets and may produce light drizzle. They are dense. particularly in advance of warm fronts upon the air temperature and the amount of where evaporating rain falling through a layer of moisture in the atmosphere. Advection fog forms when warm. have sharp outlines. It forms when the air is necessary to produce a layer of fog of significant somewhat unstable. depends fronts. These are irregularly when moist. Fog may also occur in connection with condensation level described in chapter 4. Many fogs are a Clouds with vertical development include combination of these two types. The height of the bases. reduced to the dew point. Radiation fog is formed when moist cumulus is not particularly important. Some vertical mixing is usually soft and gray. and their bases may Cumulus clouds are detached clouds in the form of rising mounds or domes.conditions in a stable atmosphere and is formed in The distinction between stratus and strato- several ways.

These clouds the direction of air motion at that level. Occasionally a single cloud element will referred to as false cirrus. fibrous appearance which are sometimes blown off Their vertical growth is usually restricted by a to form cirrus-type clouds. develop vertically to some height. and characterized by a flat anvillike formation at the dissipate in the late afternoon as surface heating top. but feet or more. particularly in mountainous acute. The stretched-out shape of the anvil indicates decreases and convection ceases. and on occasion a tornado or waterspout. Virga or rain sometimes falls from the puffy type occurring during fair weather. which is sufficiently intense to support convection. True fair- 162 . rain. sometimes hail.” is frequently accompanied by lightning and thunder. remain flat. cumulus humili or fair weather cumulus. however. Cumulonimbus. Dissipating anvils give temperature inversion which makes the tops fairly the appearance of dense cirrus and are sometimes uniform. range in height from a few thousand feet to 15. and are usually isolated or in small groups. Their presence is of special interest in their presence indicates local updrafts that may fire weather as an alert to possible convection in influence fire behavior. unstable to support their growth into towering The most common type of cumulus is a small.000 weather cumulus clouds. The top often takes on the shape of an anvil. cumulus. The anvil have relatively flat bases. however. rounded or cone-shaped top is composed of sheets or veils of ice crystals of tops. They The final stage of cumulus development is the appear after local surface heating becomes cumulonimbus or thunderhead. They are a common type during The danger from cumulus clouds is more the fire season. called base of large cumulus. often abbreviated to “cb. if the air is sufficiently moist and regions. Cumulonimbus clouds are heavy and dense with considerable vertical development sometimes reaching the tropopause. the surface layer.

They are formed by freezing of intensity may vary from a few drops per hour to raindrops or by refreezing of partly melted several inches in a matter of minutes. Because of the tropopause. The repetition 163 . snow three basic classes depending on their physical pellets. of air. and fall as liquid drops that freeze on striking the Hail consists of balls of ice ranging in size ground. and is temperature of the cloud portion from which the frequently accompanied by fog and low visibility. snow is falling is not much below freezing. Their sociated with frontal or orographic lifting indicate moisture source may be almost entirely water strong surface heating and atmospheric instability vapor from the combustion process. characteristics when they strike the earth: Snow consists of crystals of ice formed in Liquid. The drops may be above-freezing. The difference is mainly one of size Air beneath the cloud must be near or below and quantity of droplets. the cloud. This the front. The snowflakes melt when they reach ice. lightning. inch. but from 1/5 inch to several inches in diameter. Rain may come from liquid droplets coalesce with supercooled droplets. Drizzle droplets range in freezing.000 feet or higher and often reach the developed thunderheads. Drizzle is ground. They usually they are supercooled and freeze upon have layerlike structures indicating that they have striking the ground or other cold objects. the more severe the thunderstorm. The greater the vertical development of such as dust devils. Heavier snowflakes falling through a below-freezing layer rainfall usually consists of larger drops. cold clouds by both the ice crystal and coalescence Sleet consists of transparent hard pellets of processes. freezing. or the snow will melt before reaching the size from about 1/500 to 1/50 inch. stratus clouds. and falls from. They range or from melted snowflakes originally formed in in size from 1/16 to 1/4 inch. precipitation. convection phenomena KINDS OF PRECIPITATION Precipitation products can be divided into Frozen precipitation consists of snow. pure ice clouds or in mixed clouds. occur in showers before or with snow. Rain or snow showers usually importance of thunderstorms in fire weather. The temperature at the ground must be process is repeated until the hailstone falls out of lower than 32°F. Hailstones apparently occurs usually with warm-front rain formed in the begin their growth when supercooled water warm air above the frontal surface. we accompany cumulonimbus clouds. Tops of cumulonimbus may extend to altitudes of strong cold downdrafts present a threat from well 60. and hail are common. Rainfall striking the ground. or it may be from the surface up through the level of the cloud water vapor entrained with air through which the tops. Sleet occurs most commonly with warm Freezing rain and freezing drizzle are formed fronts. Cumulus cloud caps often form atop the Cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds not as. Raindrops range in size from about 1/100 to 1/4 Snow pellets are white opaque grains of ice. They form when ice crystals droplets. Surface winds are likely to be gusty and column rises. turbulence may be present. The heaviest snowfalls occur when the formed in. and frozen. convection columns over large forest fires. Other showers. and thunder. but this is quite rare. that bounce on air with above-freezing temperatures. about the size of raindrops. In addition to lightning. sleet and hail. and usually formed by the coalescence process in warm clouds. and considerable cumulonimbus. Such clouds occasionally produce increase in speed as the cumulus forms. whirlwinds. The liquid water supercooled as it falls through the cold air beneath freezes on the ice pellet to form a layer of ice. This grown by successive steps. The larger Rain and drizzle are the two kinds of liquid snowflakes are built up by the coalescence process. and then droplets impinge on ice pellets. will discuss them in detail in the following chapter. They are much more sparse than drizzle usually round.

which then fall to the freezing layer of air.— Snow consists of crystals of ice formed in pure ice Bottom. by the coalescence process in warm clouds.Top. 164 . subsequently melt as they fall through warm air.— Sleet is formed by the freezing of liquid raindrops or the Top—Rain arriving at the ground may begin as liquid drops. The snowflakes falling to the ground through cold air so that the flakes do not melt. built up by the coalescence process and and coalescence processes in cold clouds. formed refreezing of partly melted snowflakes as they fall through a below.—Or rain may begin as snowflakes formed by the ice crystal clouds or in mixed clouds. ground through warm air. Bottom.

forest fuels at night can add considerably to the These are dew and frost. their altitude as high.01 inch of rain. Frost forms by sublimation unstable air. In saturated air. clouds form by the condensation of water vapor. an electrical The standard rain gage is an 8-inch cylindrical impulse is recorded. The top of the gage should container is used.may be due to the hailstone being caught in strong but instead are deposited when water vapor updrafts and carried upward into the region of condenses or sublimes on the ground or on objects supercooled droplets.1 inch deep in the measuring tube. or frozen snow. example is the deposit of water that forms on a Hail is associated with thunderstorms and very glass of ice water. or hail. Our use. Another type is the weighing- container with an 8-inch funnel at the top and a type gage which can be used for either snow or measuring tube inside. Dew forms when air next to the process to begin at very high altitudes. Dew and frost forming on from the atmosphere is deposited on the ground. droplets or ice crystals into rain- 165 . The cross-sectional area of rain. and only the outside cylindrical the height of the object. In the last group precipitate by the ice-crystal process. but remains above freezing. Low bushes. It is also possible for the near the ground. stick used to measure the precipitation is graduated The rain gage should be exposed in the open in inches. and walls are not objectionable. Several types of recording gages that make sleet. middle. and those Cloud droplets grow to sizes large enough to with large vertical development. This device simply weighs the snow or rain the measuring tube is exactly one-tenth that of the that is collected. vertical depth of the water or melted snow. freezing rain or moisture. Dew and frost do not fall. in which ground or to cold objects is chilled to the dew point case the hailstone grows as it falls through of the air. weather associated with the thunderstorm has such supercooled liquid droplets to ice crystals where serious effects on fire weather that the entire next sublimation takes place. if 0. Snow caught in the gage is be level. or. Precipitation falls becomes saturated either by the addition of in the form of liquid rain or drizzle. it is 0. dew point.01 inch away from large buildings or trees. more commonly. provided When snow is measured. in which are cumulonimbus or thunderstorm clouds. Thus. by cooling to the drizzle. when the air is chilled to its dew point and the dew There are two other forms in which moisture point is below freezing. fuel moisture. melted and measured in the measuring tube to SUMMARY In this chapter we have learned that air drops or clumps of snowflakes. fences. and hundredths. The to a revolving drum. which takes place on Clouds are classified according to their fine particles called condensation or sublimation structure as stratus or cumulus. Snow. and other solid forms are also measured continuous records of the precipitation are also in on the basis of the depth of the unmelted form. For each 0. The weight is recorded funnel top. so that 0.1 inch of stick length. low clouds. The water vapor is transferred from evaporating. the funnel and measuring that the gage is placed at a distance of at least twice tube are removed.01 of an inch of precipitation continuously in inches of water on a chart attached falls. and according to nuclei. hail. sleet. tenths. of rain is indicated for each 0. MEASUREMENT OF PRECIPITATION Precipitation is measured on the basis of the obtain the liquid equivalent of the snow. or by coalescence of chapter will be devoted to it. rain. The tipping bucket gage can be used only for common unit of measurement is the inch. A common successive concentrations of supercooled water.


heavy precipitation from “wet” thunderstorms moistens fuels. But let us not become overconfident! The few fires that do start may be hard to find and may “sleep” until the woods dry out. and lessens the risk that lightning strikes will start fires. producing strong. Several hundred wildfires can be started by lightning during one day on a single forest or district. Wildland fires may be started by lightning most anywhere on the North American Continent where thunderstorms occur. These so- called “dry” thunderstorms occur mainly in the mountainous West. The second is the thunderstorm downdraft which spreads out upon nearing the ground. such fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Western United States and Canada during a few days. overwhelming all possible fire control efforts. But the problem is most serious where thunderstorms produce little or no precipitation that reaches the ground. The first is the fire-starting potential caused by lightning strikes from cloud-to-ground. and gusty winds for a short time. and then suddenly become major conflagrations. On the beneficial side. Chapter 10 THUNDERSTORMS Two characteristics of thunderstorms make them an important element in fire weather. shifting. 166 . In dry periods. decreases the activity of going fires.


A thunderstorm is a violent local storm A thunderstorm, as we experience it, is
produced by a cumulonimbus cloud and ac- composed of one or more individual convective
companied by thunder and lightning. It represents cells or units. A cell may range from a few miles to
extreme convective activity in the atmosphere, 10 miles in diameter. A cluster of cells, each in a
with both updrafts and downdrafts reaching high different stage of development, with
speeds. The thunderstorm depends upon the release interconnecting cloud masses may extend for 50
of latent heat, by the condensation of water vapor, miles. Each convective cell has its individual
for most of its energy. We learned in chapter 1 that identity and life cycle, even though cumulus cloud
for each pound of liquid water condensed from bases may join to form a solid overcast which
vapor, more than 1,000 B.t.u.’s of heat energy is obscures the multicellular structure.
released. Because thunderstorms seriously affect the
Tremendous amounts of this energy are inception and behavior of wildfire, we will con-
released in a single well-developed thunderstorm. sider them in some detail. We will first discuss the
The amount may well exceed 10 times the energy environmental conditions necessary for, and the
released in a World War II atomic bomb. And it is process of, thunderstorm development. Then, we
estimated that there are 45,000 thunderstorms will look into the life cycle of an individual cell,
occurring daily over the earth. Part of the heat the phenomenon of lightning, the type of
energy is converted to kinetic energy of motion to thunderstorms, and finally consider briefly the
cause the violent winds which usually accompany most violent of all storms, the tornado, which on
thunderstorms. occasion occurs with thunderstorms.


Thunderstorms have their origins in cumulus ing level for an electrical potential to be produced
clouds. But only a few cumulus clouds develop which will cause a lightning discharge. The
into thunderstorms. Certain atmospheric conditions conditional instability is released when the air is
are necessary for this development to take place. lifted to the level of free convection. Beyond this
These are: (1) Conditionally unstable air, (2) some level, the lifted air is buoyant and rises freely and
triggering mechanism to release the instability, and moist-adiabatically until it has cooled to the
(3) sufficient moisture in the air. temperature of the surrounding air. (We will
These factors may be present in varying consider this process more thoroughly in the next
degrees so that in one situation on a sultry section.)
afternoon only fair-weather cumulus will form,
while in another situation numerous thunderstorms The triggering mechanism necessary to re-
will develop. In the first situation, the instability in lease the instability is usually some form of lifting.
the lower atmosphere may be offset by stability This lifting may be orographic or frontal, or may
aloft, which prevents strong convectional activity be produced by low-level converging flow or by
essential to the development of cumulonimbus heating from below. Any of these processes may
clouds. bring warm air from near the surface up to the
For thunderstorm formation, the air must be level of free convection, above which it will rise
conditionally unstable through a deep layer. freely. We have discussed these lifting actions in
Convection must develop well beyond the freez- chapters 4 and 9 and need not dwell on them here.


Most lightning fires occur in the mountainous West and the Southwest. More thunderstorms occur in the
Southeast but start fewer fires because of the accompanying rain.


Another triggering mechanism is the further level and the easier it is for the level of free
steepening of the temperature lapse rate through conviction to be reached. Above the condensation
advection of cold or warm air. Cold air moving in level, the heat released in the condensation process
at high levels will steepen the lapse rate and make tends to make the rising air more buoyant. For this
the atmosphere more unstable. Warm air moving in reason, the air need be only conditionally unstable
at low levels will have the same steepening effect. rather than absolutely unstable for thunderstorms
Clouds will not form in air containing little to develop when other factors are favorable.
moisture even though other factors present may be
favorable for thunderstorm development. For The building upward of cumulus clouds into
cumulus clouds to develop, air must be lifted to the cumulonimbus may be prevented by layers of air at
condensation level, and for significant cloud intermediate levels which are initially very stable
growth it must be further lifted to the level of free or dry. Thunderstorms are unlikely to develop
convection. The greater the air moisture, the lower under these conditions even though all other
the condensation factors favor development.


The development of a thunderstorm in a approximately proportional to the energy which
moist, conditionally unstable atmosphere can best must be supplied before free convection can take
be illustrated on an adiabatic chart. On the place. It is usually referred to as a negative area.
accompanying graph the line ABCDE represents The area enclosed by GCDE is a measure of the
the early morning temperature structure of the energy available to accelerate the parcel upward
lower atmosphere. The stable layer AB is the after it reaches level G. It is referred to as a
nighttime surface inversion. From B to D, the positive area. In forecasting, thunderstorms are
atmosphere is conditionally unstable since its lapse considered to be more likely if the positive area is
rate lies between the moist-adiabatic and dry- large and the negative area is small. It must be
adiabatic lapse rates. An analysis of the graph will remembered, however, that whatever the size of the
show that convection from the surface cannot take negative area, it represents negative buoyancy that
place unless energy is provided either in the form must be overcome before the conditional instability
of heating or lifting. is released.
If a parcel at A were lifted, its temperature A common method by which the negative
would decrease at the dry-adiabatic rate of 5.5°F. area is reduced is through daytime heating.
per thousand feet until saturation is reached, and Suppose that by afternoon on the day under
above that level it would decrease at the lesser consideration, the surface temperature has in-
moist-adiabatic rate. If the moisture content of the creased to A’ and mixing and heating have
parcel were such that condensation would be produced a dry-adiabatic layer from the surface to
reached at level F, the temperature of the parcel level G’. The negative area would be completely
would follow the dry adiabat from A to F, then the eliminated, and convection of air from the surface
moist adiabat from F to G and up to E. During this to level G’ would be possible. Let us suppose also
lifting from A to F to G, the parcel would be colder that the moisture content of this layer is such that
than the surrounding air whose temperature is condensation would take place in rising air upon
represented by ABG, and would have negative reaching level G’. Above level G’, which in this
buoyancy. Without energy being supplied to the case would be both the convective condensation
parcel to lift it, the parcel would tend to return to level and the level of free convection, the
the surface. Above the level G, the parcel, with its temperature of rising air would follow the moist-
temperature following the moist adiabat to E, adiabatic line G’E’. The air would rise freely,
would be warmer than the surrounding air, would because it would be increasingly warmer than the
have positive buoyancy, and would rise freely. surrounding air
The area on the graph enclosed by AFGB is


Thunderstorms con be triggered in a conditionally unstable atmosphere by surface heating. Line
ABCDE represents an early morning lapse rate, and A’G’CDE a corresponding afternoon lapse rate.


through heating near the surface or cooling at But thunderstorms may also be produced by frontal upper levels. but these procedures are much more complex. This process rapidly development. the lapse rate steepens and the line or orographic lifting. The entrainment of very dry air may produces instability and may result in cause the updraft to cease. This has the effect of decreasing the with air-mass thunderstorms caused by heating. and the produce thunderstorms protruding from the top of cloud disappears because of entrainment. It is in the region from G’ to E’ that vapor for condensation. probability. moisture content of energy is made available. may last for cellular convection characterized by strong 6 hours or more. LIFE CYCLE OF A THUNDERSTORM CELL AND ASSOCIATED WEATHER As mentioned above. negative area and increasing the positive area. nevertheless. If moisture in a lifted layer is adequate Entrainment of cooler air tends to weaken the and decreases sufficiently from the bottom to the updraft. These are the cumulus. with new The lifting process is most commonly that of cells forming and old ones dissipating. A storm composed of a cluster of cells will contain cells in various stages of Cumulus Stage development and decay. causes small eddies. the rising air parcels reach saturation at a thunderstorm development has been concerned lower level. Again the negative instead of parcels are lifted. solid cloud masses. Each cell goes through a The cumulus stage starts with a rising column definite life cycle which may last from 20 minutes of moist air to and above the condensation level. As For this type of thunderstorm the parcel method of the atmosphere becomes more unstable. For thunderstorm from outside the column which is slightly cooler. the upward motion the air aloft is an important factor in thunderstorm is accelerated and highly turbulent. The growing cumulus cloud is variations in growth and behavior. development. broad. sometimes build upward into a thick layer of very Orographic and frontal lifting of layers often dry air aloft. either analysis of temperature soundings is very useful. but typically go visible evidence of this convective activity. even if nonrising environment. updraft. Thus. If more moisture is present in the surface air Our discussion of the thermodynamics of layers. Friction at the outer surface of with a lapse rate less than dry-adiabatic stretches the column. and the temperature of the top at the The moisture content of the air surrounding greater dry-adiabatic rate until the top of the layer the updraft also influences thunderstorm also reaches saturation. the bottom of the layer will become saturated our example is a good guide to thunderstorm before the top of the layer.up to level D and would remain warmer until level entrainment will help to maintain a supply of water E’ is reached. the type of analysis given in top. Temperature area decreases and the positive area increases. This may originate near the surface or at Individual thunderstorm cells have many some higher level. The convection column that creates a thunderstorm does not exist as a completely We should recall from chapter 4 that a layer isolated chimney. the thunderstorms that decay. Here. and dis- we see are composed of one or more individual sipating stages. and we will consider them only briefly. although a cluster of cells. bottom of the layer will cool at the lesser moist- adiabatic rate. This is called entrainment. Air no condensation takes place. The cloud particles evaporate. condensation is required and the tends to mix somewhat with the rising air. and also distribution of moisture through the layer must be to be carried upward. considered. mature. in which deep layers of air ABCDE tilts more to the left. In soundings can also be analyzed for thunderstorm either case—more low-level moisture or greater probability which may result from the lifting of instability— thunderstorms become more likely. which through three stages of development and is continuous from well 171 . Cumulus clouds thunderstorms if the layer is relatively deep. Conversely. The temperature of the probability. convection cells. if the air aloft is moist. to 1½ hours. between the rising air and the and becomes more unstable as it is lifted. layers.

During this stage. over a fire. Cellular convection implies downward motion as well as updraft. and increases also with altitude and with time through this stage. some of the cooler and generally drier surrounding air is entrained into it. At higher levels. The primary energy responsible for initiating the convective circulation is derived from converging air below. As a cumulus cloud drifts grow to raindrop size during the cumulus stage. Rain does not occur in this stage. and at the highest levels only ice crystals or ice particles are found. Cloud droplets are at first very small. 172 . During this stage the cumulus cloud grows into a cumulo- nimbus. Air temperature within the rapidly growing cell in this stage is higher than the temperature of the air surrounding the cell. which is fed by converging air at all levels up to the updraft maximum. the surface wind field shows a gentle The cumulus stage of a thunderstorm cell is characterized by a strong updraft. the principal effect of a thunderstorm on a going fire is produced by the updraft. It increases from the edges to the center of the cell. liquid drops are mixed with ice crystals. Often one of the visible features of this entrainment is the evaporation and disappearance of external cloud features. The indraft is strengthened. but instead are suspended or carried upward by the updraft. Shade provided by the cloud during the daytime allows the ground to cool. but they In the cumulus stage. below the cloud base up to the visible cloud top. and freezing level where they remain liquid at spotting potential is increased. The updraft speed varies in strength from point-to-point and minute-to-minute. The updraft is strongest near the top of the cell. Except for cells which develop above a frontal surface. the updraft into the cloud and the convection column They are carried upward by the updraft beyond the over the fire reinforce each other. increasing in strength toward the end of the cumulus stage. Surface weather during the cumulus stage is affected very little. and fuel temperatures approach that of the surface air. As the updraft pushes skyward. In the cumulus stage this takes the form of slow settling of the surrounding air over a much larger area than that occupied by the stronger updraft. Surface pressure falls slightly. the raindrops and ice crystals do not fall. subfreezing temperatures.

h. surrounding air. The updraft the mature stage. the convection change in the circulation within the cell takes from the fire may join with the updraft and they place. The mature Mature Stage stage is characterized by a downdraft developing in The start of rain from the base of the cloud part of the cell while the updraft continues in the marks the beginning of the mature stage. but intense.p. The frictional drag exerted by the rain or other precipitation the first gust is accompanied by a sudden initiates a downdraft. The pressure is colder. This occurs roughly 10 to 15 minutes after to downdraft is progressive. frequently referred to as the “first gust. remains high as long as the dome of cold air is over an area.000 or 60. the storm’s movement opposes the outflow and makes it much less pronounced. To the rear. If such a cloud with laterally into the familiar “anvil” top. The air being dragged downward by the under arid conditions or with high-level falling rain becomes cooler and heavier than the thunderstorms. This wind discontinuity is most pronounced on the forward side of the thunderstorm.h. cold front. may reinforce each other. Here. begins when rain starts falling out of the base of the cloud. to start first near the freezing level and spreads The convection cell reaches its maximum height in both horizontally and vertically. The mature stage. Usually it is not so strong as the updraft. they drag fire to become active. thus accelerating its downward Raindrops and ice particles have grown to such an fall. 173 . Melting of ice and evaporation of raindrops extent that they can no longer be supported by the cool the descending air. air with them and begin changing part of the circulation from updraft to downdraft. There is a downdraft in part of the cell and an temperature drop.000 or 35. this rain reaches the ground. The downdraft becomes most pronounced near the bottom of the cell cloud where the cold air appears to cascade downward. Except remainder. The updraft at the center feeds or higher. This joining may strengthen the inflow at the surface and cause the As raindrops and ice particles fall. in the lower 5. Below the cloud. updraft in the remainder. Because the outflowing air is cold and heavy. which may exceed 50 m. and the downdraft and a sharp rise in surface pressure.000 feet or so above the ground..000 continues in its decreasing portion of the cloud and feet and occasionally breaking through the often reaches its greatest strength early in the mature stage. The change from updraft updraft.000 feet under the updraft.inturning of winds forming the area of convergence tropopause and reaching to 50. The speed of the downdraft within the cell varies. the storm’s movement is added to the speed of the outflow. The effect of a fiat ground surface is to force the downdraft to pile up and spread out horizontally as a small. sometimes as much as 25°F. The visible cloud top flattens and spreads into the growing cloud above. The updraft is wormer. The downdraft appears the cell has built upward beyond the freezing level. but may reach 30 m.p. the downward rush of cool air decreases somewhat. This horizontal outflow of air produces a strong and highly turbulent surge. than the air surrounding the cell. the most active portion of the thunderstorm cycle. usually rising to 25.” As this initial surge strikes an area it causes a sharp change in wind direction and an increase in speed. A marked its updraft passes over a going fire.

Heavy rain rainfall becomes lighter and eventually ceases. rain ends. particularly in mountain topography. and gradually dissipation occurs or only stratiform clouds at decreases with time. the source of moisture and energy for a life cycle. air in the cell is gradually which we will discuss later. or The downdraft spreads over the entire cell. Light rain falls from the cloud. Wind. ground may be absent in high-level thunderstorms. and the updraft disappears in the dissipating stage. either complete after rain first hits the ground. usually occurs under the center of the cell. shortly the surrounding air. though precipitation at the within the cell are lower than in the surrounding air. The the thunderstorm. Local topographic features may also in- fluence the initiation of new cells. The interaction of cells in a cluster can cause false impressions of the behavior of thunderstorms. temperature. As the downdrafts cease. and the cloud begins movement is difficult to discern from the ground. As and strong gusty winds at ground level are typical long as downdrafts and rain continue. diminished. The downdraft and outflowing cold air appear to be an important factor in the development of new cells. temperatures of most thunderstorms. the updrafts continue to weaken. to evaporate. A cell may form over a mountain peak and drift off downwind as another cell develops over the peak. spread vertically and horizontally. The mature stage is the most intense period of continued cell growth and activity is cutoff. different cells within a cluster at any time may be in various stages of development. the surface signs also disappear unless new cells Dissipating Stage develop. and becomes indistinguishable from. and the cell enters the dissipating stage. and Lightning frequency is at its maximum. The forward edge of the cold dome may also act as a small cold front and cause lifting of warm air and the development of new cells. The downdraft then weakens. There is extreme turbulence in amount of falling liquid water and ice particles and below the cloud. The true Gradually the downdraft weakens. 174 . decay and replacement of old cells. Finally. Then. with intense gusts available to accelerate the descending air is superimposed on the updraft and downdraft. back into the wind. and pressure gradually return to the conditions outside the thunderstorm As the downdrafts continue to develop and area. The preferred place for new cell development is the area between two cells where their outflowing cold air collides and causes upward motion in the overlying warm air. turn at right angles to the wind. Thunderstorm cells usually move in the direction of the airflow in the layer in which they develop but at a speed somewhat less than this airflow. The heaviest rain mixed with. Cell growth. move faster than the general wind itself. New Cell Development storm cell becomes an area of downdrafts. lower levels and the separated anvil top remain. new ones are formed. As the thunderstorm cell dissipates. As the updrafts Although each thunderstorm cell goes through end. the entire thunder. and the extension of the storm area by new cell formations may make the storm system appear to split. As old cells die out.

mature cells have both an updraft and a downdraft (gray). embedded in a cloud mass. Most cloud-to-ground discharges originate electronic equipment have established where. and near the cloud are altered The processes that generate the electrical 175 . the atmosphere has a positive upward to the cloud so rapidly that they appear as a electrical charge with respect to the earth. LIGHTNING Lightning occurs in a thunderstorm when an potential are not fully understood. the electric fields in not show return strokes. a leader stroke works its accumulate and how charges vary during storm way downward to the ground in a series of probing development. This fair flickering discharge. steps. Lightning about 30 volts per foot. First. in in the cloud and progress to the ground. The average number of return weather potential gradient has an average value of strokes in a lightning flash is four. Regardless of the to exceed the resistance of the atmosphere to a method or methods by which electrical potentials flow of electrons beteeen the centers of opposite are generated. Thunderstorms are often made up of clusters of convective cells. They take the thunderstorm. in various stages of development. The downdrafts from different cells often merge into an outflow from the thunderstorm mass. and a number of electrical potential builds up that is strong enough theories have been advanced. When a cumulus cloud discharges taking place within a cloud usually do grows into a cumulonimbus. Developing cells have only an updraft (red). measurements with specialized charge. Then a number of return strokes flash In fair weather. opposite charges tend to place in two stages. and dissipating cells have only a downdraft.

but reaches its greatest frequency at the time stronger. Cloud-to-ground lightning is usually a dis- charge between the negative lower portion of the cloud and the induced positive charge on the ground and accounts for about one-third of all discharges. or from cloud-to-ground. Smaller positive and negative charge areas also develop. the strongest flashes to the earth usually originate in the lower portion of the cell. but the cloud-to-ground discharges are stage. The most extensive horizontal flashes occur at altitudes extending from the freezing level upward to where the temperature is about 15°F. Rapidly falling rain carries positive charges downward and creates a positive charge center in the precipitation core. Most lightning discharges. Most discharges are within a cloud Lightning sometimes occurs in the cumulus or from cloud-to-cloud. cloud. 176 . Many cloud-to-ground lightning strikes reach out laterally for considerable dis- tances from the cloud base. from cloud-to- center disappears when the heavy rain stops. are within a cloud or cloud-to-cloud. and intensified. positive charges tend to accumulate in the top of the cloud and negative charges in the lower portion. Although lightning may occur throughout a thunderstorm cell. The upper portion of the cloud becomes positively charged and the lower portion negatively charged. This positive charge Lightning discharges take place within a cloud. although other smaller positive and negative charges develop. the cell reaches maturity and its greatest height. however. Lightning frequency is at a maximum in the mature stage. Once lightning has As a thunderstorm cloud becomes electrified. The negative charge near the cloud base induces a positive charge on the ground—a reversal of the fair-weather pattern. The start of rain beneath the cloud base at the beginning of the mature stage marks the onset of the greatest lightning danger. Many of the within-cloud discharges take place between the negative charge in the lower portion of the cloud and a positive charge center carried downward from the upper portion of the cloud by the falling rain in the precipitation core.

The nocturnal. mountainsides. lightning strikes these lifting processes often act together. cold air wedge beneath the warm front. But as the height of the cell lightning flash using the elapsed time between decreases after reaching maturity. often above 15. cold-air advection aloft. but may be unbroken line of thunderstorms. or a along the upper cold front and are set off by the combination of these. In this case. less cloud height is near. instead of a sharp ex- TYPES OF THUNDERSTORMS Thunderstorms are usually classified as Convective thunderstorms formed by con- frontal or air-mass thunderstorms. However. or night. in which portions of trans- waves resulting from the sudden heating and mitted radio signals are reflected back from expansion of the air along the path of the lightning precipitation areas in clouds and displayed as radar discharge. These storms are warm-front surface. Apparently. thunderstorm. The frontal type vergence may occur day or night. warm air or high-level cold air may also occur day Warm-front thunderstorms are usually em. warm-front type occlusion. is usually due to low-level warm-air derstorms because of the shallow slope of the advection and convergence. rumbling sound is heard. and the tracking. One type of air-mass thunderstorm. may be Orographic thunderstorms develop when unaffected by the thunderstorms above. seconds of elapsed time. bedded in large stratiform cloud masses. it may continue well into the dissipating plosive clap. although it reaches the ground. The lightning flashes decreases. Cold-front thunderstorms are generally They tend to be more frequent during the afternoon more severe and occur in a more-or-less continuous and early evening because heating from below aids line. cold fronts. but occasionally there will be a long are similar to those along a cold front. or occluded fronts. The lifting process may be orographic. High-level more severe than warm-front thunderstorms and thunderstorms occur most frequently in the less severe than the cold-front type. except when the discharge is very stage of the cell. but they tend to is caused by warm. even more severe. summer.started. They are which is common in the Midwest during spring and likely to be the least severe of frontal thun. the frequency of seeing the flash and hearing the thunder. The noise of thunder is due to compression Weather radar. Their bases are normally lower than those of in the lifting process. Surface wind conditions. the high- and tornadoes are usually associated with squall. Since light travels so very much faster than needed to maintain continuing discharges than to sound. Air-mass thunderstorms are unaffected by Their distinctive feature is that their cloud frontal activity. The downdraft and 177 . reaching the ground frequently start fires in the dry fuels. moist air being forced over a be most active in the afternoon. is helpful in locating. mountainous West during the summer months. scattered along the individual peaks of mountain Thunderstorms occurring along a squall line ranges. They are usually heating over mountain ranges. This lifting may occur with instability resulting from advection of low-level warm fronts. individual distance to a flash is about 1 mile for each 5 flashes may remain strong. destructive winds. Those produced by wedge of cold air. Air-mass thunderstorms may be further precipitation is totally or mostly evaporated before classified as convective or orographic. and revealing the intensity of ground surface so that a thunderstorms and their associated lightning. in the among the most severe found anywhere. These compression waves are reflected echoes on an indicator. As a result. often aided by surface lifting of the warm. Storm activity is usually other frontal thunderstorms. they occur convergence. level or dry thunderstorm. it is possible to estimate the distance of a initiate the first. Heavy hail. moist air. unstable air is forced up mountain slopes. deserves special line thunderstorms. consideration because of its importance in starting Thunderstorms are often associated with a wildfires. or nighttime. from inversion layers. moist.000 feet. that isolated. They are usually scattered or bases are so high.

moisture is present. Thunderstorms are set off by lifting over upper Low is erratic and very difficult to predict. moving eastward at a higher latitude. and by heating and upslope thermal The Low may move in virtually any direction. at levels of 10. TORNADOES Tornadoes are violent whirling storms which from a cumulonimbus cloud. but cross-slope flow from the main belt of westerlies. thunderstorms will form. several days or a week before finally dissipating or moving on. They take rotating columns of air range in size from a the form of a funnel or tube building downward hundred feet to a half mile in 178 . The cold air may also occur. The cold. The movement of a closed feet. heavy air is usually guided by the topography into downslope and downcanyon flow. The downdraft and outflow from a high-level thunderstorm is likely to reach the ground even though the precipitation evaporates before reaching the ground. These violently may occur with severe thunderstorms. Arizona. within this closed Low produces instability and There are two principal weather patterns causes convective currents to develop. The cold. They may meander around for into the evening hours. These storms The Far West is a favorite place for closed usually develop in the afternoon and may extend Lows to develop. usually from over the Gulf of can develop at any time of the day or night. One is the in. although flow in any direction is possible.000 by daytime heating. With this pattern generally guided by the topography into downslope a closed low-pressure system aloft becomes cut off and downcanyon patterns. heavy air is level storms is the cold Low aloft. may winds at higher levels in the mountains. They flow of moist air. and southern California. If sufficient which produce high-level storms. outflow usually reach the ground even though the The second important weather pattern in high- precipitation does not. mountains.000 to 18. or may be picked up by a trough moist air spreads northward from New Mexico. as the deepen or fill. but are Mexico but occasionally from over the eastern most active in the afternoon when they are assisted subtropical Pacific.

179 . They generally occur with unless they touch the ground. The length of the path of a single fire hazard. wildland fire problem is the resulting blowndown usually from southwest to northeast. and so on. In Southern United States tornadoes may wind and low pressure. and often timber in forested areas that often creates high skip along. tornado is usually just a few miles. A tornado is a violently whirling vortex which occurs with a severe Maximum occurrence is in the central Midwest. then striking the ground again. and precipitation are all unstable atmosphere. of control with the downdraft and outflow. while on the inside the pressure changes little. but are referred to prefrontal squall lines. but from the destruction it is estimated that winds may exceed 500 m. We have seen that a conditionally thunderstorm downdraft. There is a sudden decrease in pressure around the house.p. they are not tornadoes early summer. In this chapter. The most active stage is the discussed various aspects of thunderstorm mature stage when lightning discharges. Destruction results from extremely strong east.. they are the most destructive of all hurricanes. The resulting difference in pressure between the outside and the inside is sufficient to blow the house apart. Tornadoes have been reported in all of the 48 contiguous States and Southern Canada. or put Once initiated. but farther north the maximum occurrence is in late spring and diameter. skipping an area. mature. occur in any month of the year. at their maximum. and some lifting or triggering because they start fires by lightning. Tornadoes usually occur in the late atmospheric phenomena on the local scale. SUM MARY Thunderstorms are important in fire control sufficient moisture. blow them out mechanism are necessary for their develop. but some tornadoes have remained active for more than a hundred miles—striking the ground for a few miles. and understanding of these severe storms. to increase our cycle consisting of cumulus. The low pressure causes houses and structures to virtually explode when a tornado passes over them. Technically. Winds in the rapidly spinning vortex have never been measured.p.h. Their main effect on the They travel with a speed of 25 to 50 m. thunderstorm cells go through a life them out with rain. the development. including those in ground.” When they do reach the other violent thunderstorms. The rotating tube builds downward from the and there is a secondary maximum in the South- cumulonimbus cloud. thunderstorm.ment. afternoon or evening. but they may develop with as “funnel clouds. but they are rare west of the Rocky Mountains.h. The great destructiveness of tornadoes is caused by the very strong wind and extremely low pressure. we have dissipating stages.

Chapter 11


The moisture content of live and dead vegetation is not in
itself a weather element. It is a product, however, of the
cumulative effects of past and present weather events and
must be considered in evaluating the effects of current or
future weather on fire potential. Fuel moisture content
limits fire propagation. When moisture content is high, fires
are difficult to ignite, and burn poorly if at all. With little
moisture in the fuel, fires start easily, and wind and other
driving forces may cause rapid and intense fire spread.
Successful fire-control operations depend upon accurate
information on current fuel moisture and reliable prediction
of its changes.

The determination of exact fuel-moisture values at any time
is complicated by both the nature of the fuels and their
responses to the environment. Fuel moisture changes as
weather conditions change, both seasonally and during
shorter time periods. This fact, coupled with known
attributes of different fuels, provides a useful basis for esti-
mating fire potential in any forest or range area. This
chapter describes some of the more important relationships

In fire-control language, fuel is any organic moisture is a continuous variable controlled by
material—living or dead, in the ground, on the seasonal, daily, and immediate weather changes.
ground, or in the air—that will ignite and burn.
Fuels are found in almost infinite combinations of For convenience, the amount of water in fuel
kind, amount, size, shape, position, and ar- is expressed in percentage, computed from the
rangement. The fuel on a given acre may vary from weight of contained water divided by the ovendry
a few hundred pounds of sparse grass to 100 or weight of the fuel. Fuel-moisture values in the
more tons of large and small logging slash. It may flammability range extend from about 35 percent
consist of dense conifer crowns over heavy and to well over 200 percent in living vegetation, and
deep litter and duff, or may be primarily about 1.5 to 30 percent for dead fuels. Remember
underground peat. There is even the “urba-forest,” that living-fuel moisture is primarily the moisture
an intimate association of wild-land fuels and content of living foliage, while dead-fuel moisture
human dwellings. Any one composite fuel system is the moisture in any cured or dead plant part,
is referred to as a fuel complex. whether attached to a still-living plant or not.
Living and dead fuels have different water-
Every fuel complex has an inherent built-in retention mechanisms and different responses to
flammability potential. The extent to which this weather. Hence, we will discuss them separately
potential may be realized is limited largely by the before considering them together as a single fuel
amount of water in the fuel, but fuel complex.

Where vegetation is plentiful, fire potential depends largely upon moisture content. The rain forest may be fire-safe virtually al the time, while the parched forest
at times may be explosive.

Water in living plants plays a major role in all demand for moisture to support leaf emergence can
plant life processes. It transports soil nutrients from result in soil desiccation and in high fire danger if
the roots up through conducting tissues to the soils are burnable. This problem ceases when
leaves. In the leaves, some of the water becomes normal evapotranspiration is established.
raw material from which the organic materials are
manufactured for plant growth; some water The decrease in plant foliage moisture is
transfers the manufactured products to growing usually not smooth, but an irregular succession of
tissues and storage points; and finally, some water ups and downs. These irregularities may result
is transpired through leaf pores to become water from one or more causes, including periodic
vapor in the atmosphere. changes in food-manufacturing demands, changes
in weather, and variations in available soil
moisture. Within the individual leaf, however,
Seasonal Changes moisture is maintained within tolerable limits
during the growing season through ability of the
The moisture content of living-plant foliage of leaf to open or close the leaf pores and thus
wildland species varies markedly with seasonal regulate the rate of transpiration to the atmosphere.
changes in growth habits except in humid southern Foliage moisture content may even change during
climates. These changes are usually typical for the the course of the day.
local species and climate, but are tempered in
timing by deviations from normal weather, such as
amount and spacing of precipitation, date of Effect of Type
disappearance of snow-pack, or the occurrence of
unseasonably warm or cool temperatures. Thus, the Evergreens
beginning or ending dates of growth activity
affecting plant moisture may vary 2 weeks or Evergreens growing in climates having
more, and the growth activity may vary during the marked seasonal changes generally have seasonal
season. growth cycles. Leaves that have lived through a
dormant period increase in moisture content at the
Growing seasons are longest in the lower beginning of the new season from a minimum of
latitudes and become progressively shorter toward perhaps 80-100 percent to a maximum of perhaps
higher latitudes. They may be as short as 60 days at 120 percent within a few weeks. These values are
the northern forest limits. Elevation and aspect typical, but do not necessarily apply to all species
affect local microclimate and produce local and regions. Moisture decreases slowly after this
differences in seasonal development of many plant modest increase until the minimum is again
species. In mountain topography, for example, reached at the onset of dormancy.
lower elevations and southern exposures favor the
earliest start of the growing season. Moisture Within a few days of the initial increase in
content of all new foliage is highest at the time of moisture in old leaves, twig and leaf buds open and
emergence. Moisture content two or three times the a new crop of leaves begins to emerge. Their initial
organic dry weight is common. The period of moisture may exceed 250 percent. Leaves may
emergence varies according to localities, species, emerge quickly, or over an extended period,
and local weather. The peak moisture normally depending on species and the character of the
declines quite rapidly during leaf growth and weather-related growing season. The average
development, then somewhat more slowly to a moisture content of the new growth drops rapidly
terminal value leading to death or dormancy in the to perhaps 150 percent, as the new leaves grow in
fall. In annual plants, the end result is the death of size until about midsummer, and then more slowly,
the plant; in deciduous shrub and tree species, the matching the moisture content of the older foliage
end result is the death of the foliage, while in near the end of the growing season.
evergreens some leaves live and others die and fall.
In organic (peat or muck) soils, the excessive


The moisture content of old foliage changes only slightly during the season, while that of new foliage is very high at
emergence and then drops, first rapidly, then more slowly, matching that of the old foliage at the end of the growing season.

Different species of evergreen trees and semiarid West. It is not uncommon for midseason
shrubs characteristically retain a season’s crop of soil-moisture deficiency to cause cessation of
foliage for different periods of years. This may growth in these species, with foliage moisture
vary among species from one season to five or lowering to between 40 and 50 percent. Usually,
more. There are also differences within species, these plants retain the ability to recover after the
due partly to age, health, and stand density, but next rain. Prolonged severe drought, however, can
mostly to the weather-dictated character of the prove fatal to major branches or even to whole
growing season. Thus, in years of poor growth shrubs. Conflagration potential is then at its peak.\
there is normally little leaf fall, and in years of lush
growth the fall is heavy. As crown canopies The live foliage of evergreens as a class is
become closed, leaf fall tends to approximate usually more combustible than that of deciduous
foliage production. The oldest foliage, that closest species. There are several reasons, but differences
to the ground, is the first to fall, and, in time, the in their moisture regimes are most important, All
lower twigs and branches that supported it must deciduous foliage is the current year’s growth, and
also succumb and add to the dead fuel supply. it maintains relatively high moisture content during
most of the growing season. Evergreens, on the
There are exceptions, of course, to the nor- other hand, and particularly those that retain their
mal, seasonal growth and leaf-moisture cycle, and foliage for a number of years, have much lower
to the annual replenishment of foliage. Particularly average foliage moisture during the growing
striking are the variations found in the drought- season. Old-growth foliage with its lower moisture
resistant brush and chapparral species in the may constitute 80 percent or more of the total ever-


decline until dormancy sets in. there are considerable differences systems than annuals and are somewhat less between groups of species in their contributions to sensitive to short-term surface soil moisture and forest flammability. unexposed to the elements until the forest is defoliated. but annual range grasses are much these latter species particularly. The result is that the living foliage of some species absorbs nearly as much heat to Grasses vaporize its contained water as it yields when burned. fire of sufficient intensity burning in associated the live foliage of most deciduous American broad. the curing time moisture content. although more or also reduces wind speeds near the ground—another less dormant. The surface fuels are relatively weather. annual grasses are dead fuels. At best. making crown heating. 184 . These grasses flammability. At the end of the curing period. temperature changes. marked differences appear fires in these types rare. current year’s growth mark the period of maximum Similarly. and by at the beginning of the season. annuals have a limited obtaining inplace measurements of live-foliage growth season. however. Evergreen foliage is then mostly tough and leathery. foliage is still in prime growth. During the process of production and decline. however. however. the current foliage more sensitive to seasonal and short-term weather moisture content is important in determining total variations than are most other fuels. some stems and blades cure and die content of these dead materials. but dieback affects only leaves and stems down to the The foliage of broadleaf forests in full leaf root crowns. The forest canopy while others may remain alive. produce seed. growth and curing cycle similar to annuals. Light green succulent leaves of the hot. humidity relationships favoring high moisture humid areas. Among the weather. all deciduous reach a highly flammable stage while broadleaf species contribute each year’s total foliage pro. branches. Thus. dead fuels. too. When vegetation is subjected to leaf forests is not very flammable. the perennial grasses have. In warm. and moisture. grass will burn on a good burning day. They mature. or its depletion by touching it. In regions that have marked two quite different situations: first a deciduous growing seasons limited by hot. during the curing stage. for example. dry seasons or cold broadleaf forest. The principal differences in moisture shades the dead litter on the ground. ground fires in a deciduous forest Any living vegetation can be consumed by in full leaf are rarely a serious threat. duction to the surface dead fuel accumulation. may shorten the growth period. and twigs. The reduced content result from a later maturing date and a solar radiation helps maintain temperature. except in All living wildland vegetation responds to the period of rapid spring growth. A general estimate can be made by a begin to cure or foliage volume. slower rate and longer period of curing. may add good and poor growing seasons as determined by significantly to the total fire heat output. Perennial grasses have deeper. because of the weather. stronger root however. fully exposed Deciduous Species to the high temperatures of solar radiation and to the full force of the wind. Often. After its there is greater tendency toward a mixture with moisture content has dropped to 30 or 40 percent dead foliage. In addition. among species in the rates of output of combustible volatiles. dry weather. annual grasses may In contrast to the evergreens. Darkening and hardening of these may vary from 3 weeks to 2 months after leaves mark the beginning of steady moisture noticeable yellowing. Living foliage of other species. Let us compare. Green grass is not flammable. a range. Thus. But deficient surface moisture close eye examination of the foliage. and then grasses on the open winters. such mixtures will burn in dry favorable factor. Among the evergreens. are shallow-rooted and thus depend primarily on adequate surface soil moisture for full top There is no convenient or practical method for development.

and are held to the cell. The water molecules that penetrate and the few molecular layers that adhere to the cell walls are called bound water.” The amount of of cells. or fiber. For most plant fuels it is in the range of 30 to 35 percent of the fuel dry weight. evaporation. the vapor pressure in the outer layer of water on the cell wall is equal to that of free water. only more depending on how wet or dry the environment slowly. We will consider it in the light of our discussions of vapor pressure. pene- trate. Successive molecular layers have progressively weaker bonds until the cell walls become saturated. walls by the hygroscopic character of the cell material. One reason is that the rate of penetration slows down with increasing distance from the surface. Molecules of water are attracted to. 185 . The amount of bound water at the fiber- saturation point varies with different materials. In some climatic regimes. Fine materials may absorb that much in a matter of minutes. When atmospheric humidity is low. moisture from moist fuels is evaporated into the surrounding air. A second and equally important considera- tion in our understanding of fuel-wetting proc- esses is the fact that the materials making up the dead cell walls are hygroscopic. vegetation may hold two or more times its own dry weight in water. The layer of water molecules immediately in contact with a cell wall has the strongest hygroscopic bond and lowest vapor pressure. It water remaining is variable and always changing. The contained water then evaporates until the Dead vegetation retains its original structure dead tissues become “air-dry. until all these spaces are filled. the centers of large materials may never become completely saturated. while large logs may require a season or more of heavy precipitation. and capillaries. food manufacturing Fuel-Wetting Processes and growth stop and water circulation ceases. dead fuels adsorb moisture from the surrounding air when atmospheric humidity is high. intercellular spaces. Dry. can soak up liquid water like a blotter. Dead happens to be. At that point. The hygroscopic bond between the cell walls and the water molecules is strong enough to effectively reduce the vapor pressure of the bound water. and condensation in chapter 3 and the related growth of ice crystals at the expense of water drops in chapter 9. Hygroscopic materials have an affinity for moisture which makes it possible for them to adsorb water vapor from the air. or saturation pressure. This process is one of chemical bonding. When a plant part dies.

the vapor increasing proportion of moisture loss through the pressure of bound water is less than that of free water. The third step is the falling-rate The result of the bonding phenomenon is that period when the hygroscopic nature of dead fuel free water cannot persist in a cell until the cell becomes dominant in the drying process. Drying takes place by walls of higher moisture content and taken up by evaporation exactly as from any free-water surface. up the evaporation process. The second is an intermediate step. The first step is called the constant-rate period. The rate here is independent of both the actual moisture content and the hygroscopic nature of the fuel. The intermediate decreasing-rate period may best be described as a transition step in which there is a variable change in moisture loss rate. cell walls of lower moisture content until the It will proceed whenever the surrounding vapor moisture in each cell attains the same vapor pressure is less than saturation pressure. Below the rate period is somewhat simpler than those of the saturation level. The ratio of slower removal of bound water. percent in a saturated atmosphere through adsorption of water vapor. Then free water can pass The process of moisture loss in the constant- through the cell walls by osmosis. and to a maximum fiber saturation of around 30 185 . This surrounding vapor pressure. This rate Fuel-Drying Processes begins changing slowly within the defined limits from the linear rate of the constant-rate period to As noted above. when all the fuel surface reaches the fiber- saturation level. In this manner. In a saturated saturation near the water surface decreases the atmosphere. The reverse process of fuel drying is accomplished only by evaporation to the atmosphere. with different drying mechanisms dominant in each. thereby speeding permit the necessary internal vapor transfer. which we will call the de- creasing-rate period. moisture is evaporated from cell succeeding steps. When there is evapo- Dead fuels will extract water vapor from the ration from a water surface in calm air. there is a decreasing saturated fuel surface area and an At moisture contents below the fiber-saturation level. a thin layer atmosphere whenever the vapor pressure of the next to the interface between the free water and air outer surface of the bound water is lower than the tends to become saturated with water vapor. The period ends these vapor pressures is unity at that level and decreases as moisture content decreases. Wind breaks up long enough in the absence of liquid water to this thin layer and blows it away. much of the moisture rate generally proportional to the outward vapor- transfer within fuels is in the vapor phase and pressure gradient. evaporation rate and dissipates only by relatively saturation point. The moisture content of dead fuels thoroughly wetted with free water within and on the surface decreases in three steps in a drying atmosphere. moisture content level. During this period. the condition in which the total fuel surface is no longer at or above fiber saturation. this may continue up to the fiber. fuel moisture can be raised to the orderly decreasing perhaps 300 percent by contact with liquid water. Wind speed during this period always in the direction of equalizing the moisture does not affect ultimate attainment of the critical throughout a particular piece of fuel. It ends at the critical moisture content. walls become saturated. Full fiber saturation rarely persists slow molecular diffusion in the air. But it does affect the time required to reach that point. and at a pressure.

moisture to that value. At low lesser and lesser tendency for thin layers of higher vapor-pressure gradients involving bound water. 2 percent and fiber saturation. pressure needed to maintain this gradient must reduction of humidity to zero does not reduce fuel therefore be quite low. As moisture removal progresses vapor pressure of the bound water in fuel depends below the fiber-saturation point. sometimes augmenting and without further moisture exchange. The the atmosphere. approaches a constant value. and direction of period is often considered as part of what we have moisture exchange depend on the gradient between called the falling-rate period when the error the vapor pressure of the bound water and the involved in calculations is considered tolerable. rate. vapor pressure to form at the fuel surface. but at low moisture levels Equilibrium moisture content has been de- it has little practical significance. It vapor pressure in the surrounding air. At this value. The amount. including a variety of forest fuels.rate characteristic of the falling-rate period. This results in a water and atmospheric vapor exchange. The effect may never be eliminated. increase its temperature and correspondingly its This point almost. leaving it there until the moisture content Moisture equilibrium has meaningful ap. vapor exchange between fuel and air as is the case in the falling-rate period. progressively below fiber saturation. exists in nature. This environment. there is no net exchange. Vapor exchange involving molecular diffusion into the atmosphere is more bound water is not as readily attained as is free rapid than that within the fuel. If there is no is separated for our purposes because it applies gradient. the bound-water upon the fuel temperature and moisture content. then for any combination significant drying: One is to maintain a of temperature and humidity there is an surrounding vapor pressure appreciably below the equilibrium fuel-moisture content. declining bound-water vapor pressure. This is the range Variations in the rate of drying during the covered by the falling-rate period of drying. termined in the laboratory for numerous hygro- scopic materials. and the vapor- pressure gradient is gradually reduced. the other is the atmospheric vapor pressure and the vapor addition of heat to the fuel at a rate that will pressure of the bound water are in equilibrium. demonstrated by the fact that a dry fuel in a more As drying progresses toward lower moisture. Under these conditions. content approaches if the fuel is exposed to constant atmospheric conditions of temperature The falling-rate period of drying depends and humidity for an infinite length of time. Fuel decreasing-rate period are caused by fuel and will either gain or lose moisture within this range environmental factors that are difficult to evaluate according to the relative states of the fuel and its and for which no general rules are available. moist environment reaches equilibrium at a lower content values. the effect of wind speed on drying peratures and pressures to eliminate these small gradually decreases at moisture levels gradients. vapor pressure gradually declines. Wind speed still plays a The equilibrium moisture content may be significant role in the drying process during this defined as the value that the actual moisture period. For this reason also. and a state of only to drying and is not reversible in the sense of equilibrium exists. Either of Assuming that the fuel and the atmosphere are two conditions must prevail to assure continued at the same temperature. bound-water vapor pressure. The upon an outward gradient between the bound-water atmospheric vapor pressure is dependent upon the vapor pressure and the ambient vapor pressure in temperature and moisture content of the air. For this there is not sufficient energy at normal tem- reason. The external vapor equilibrium point from above. Both processes Small vapor-pressure differences can and do exist operate in nature. but not quite. This is sometimes opposing each other. a vapor pressure gradient is value than a moist fuel approaching the same established within the fuel. The process is then plication to forest-fuel moisture only in the range repeated over the common of moisture-content values between about 187 . The usual procedure is to place the material in an Concept of Moisture Equilibrium environment of constant temperature and humidity.

moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. common to a variety of natural phenomena. 2. Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents. or about 14. The symbol. for example. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. the approach to equilibrium values from moisture The equilibrium moisture content—the average for six fuel types is contents either above or below equilibrium follows shown—depends mainly upon the relative humidity. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. logarithms. Similarly. and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature. reduced to about 8. but with other to as the timelag period. Under standard conditions. To it. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used. The moisture content at the end of five or six timelag Use of the equilibrium moisture-content periods very closely approximates the equilibrium concept makes it possible to estimate whether fuel moisture content. e. The This means. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. defined as constant 80°F. This size and other factors of fuels. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response. let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. percent relative humidity.63 x 22. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14.7183.5. or equilibrium. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles. temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap.8 percent.5 percent. by itself. and so on. however. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0. This relationship indicates that 13. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal.6 percent. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. Timelag Principle One method of expressing adsorption and drying rates based on both equilibrium moisture content and fuel characteristics makes use of the timelag principle. this difference would be reduced value. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . According to this principle. the duration of these proaches the equilibrium value vary not only with time periods is a property of the fuel and is referred the kind of fuel material. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. that when actual difference is 22. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions.2. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape.5 percent.2 percent.

4-inch dead branchwood having the same average timelag period. and logs consisting of all degrees of preservation and decay from the minutes. Using the timelag principle. Dead foliage. forming more-or-less prone fuel beds on the forest floor. Except for very fine material. Types of forest floor coverings vary widely depending on the nature of the forest and climatic region. fuel diameter. diameter. days. Other fuels may be compared with these. often undergo much more complex fuel- moisture changes. for example. is shape. Detached components. it is rare that even one component is really near equilibrium. and so on. may be considered the equivalent of 1. These conditions are never uniform for long. weight. compactness. has an average timelag period of about 4 days. the mineral soil. The common feature of all.5 percent. and branches still attached to living vegetation or otherwise sus- pended above ground respond to precipitation and subsequent atmospheric conditions mainly as individual components according to their respective kinds and sizes. air while the lower surface is in contact with the 30 days. we can describe There is tremendous variety between these various fuels—irrespective of type. 189 . A 2-inch litter bed with an average timelag period of 2 days. of dead branchwood (about 1. twigs. Dead branchwood 2 inches in soil. A 2-inch litter bed with an average timelag period of 2 days can be considered the equivalent. At Drying curve of 2-inch layer of litter in an environment for which the other extreme. and mixed with. the surface may be covered with only 1 or 2 year’s accumulation of dead foliage and a few twigs. in moisture response characteristics. a working knowledge of equilibrium moisture-content processes and fuel timelag differences permits one to make useful The average timelag period of branchwood and logs varies with the estimates of current fuel-moisture trends. branches. for example. In areas of rapid decomposition. Most wildland dead fuels consist of such a variety of components that it is impossible for the whole fuel complex to be at equilibrium moisture content at any one time. Logs 6 inches in diameter have an average timelag period of about 36 days. size. Nevertheless. extremes.4 inches in diameter) having a similar timelag period if there is no significant moisture exchange between the litter and the soil. there may be many years of the equilibrium moisture content is 5. or other physical features—as that only the upper surface is exposed to the free having an average timelag period of 1 hour. 2 days. accumulated foliage. however. while for logs it ranges upward to many top downward to. Thus far we have been discussing the mois- ture behavior of homogenous fuel components exposed to uniform atmospheric conditions. Aerial and Ground Fuels Two types of dead fuel are of particular in- terest.

Here. In deep fuels. resulting in the topsoil and lower duff becoming powder dry. Fuels on the ground tend to become compacted and have more complex moisture changes. These changes in upward and downward moisture gradients are common in most compacted fuel beds. 190 . they may even be part of Aerial fuels respond to precipitation and atmospheric conditions the diurnal cycle of moisture as individual components. Subsequent drying starts at the top and works downward. or a light shower may cause a downward moisture gradient. A large log. In deep and compact fuel beds. as rains begin and temperatures and humidities moderate. dries through the summer from the outside in. and still another between the top and bottom of the fuel bed itself. Then morning dew on the surface. according to their respective kinds and sizes. In the fall. the process is reversed and the log begins to take on moisture from the outside in. high relative humidity. There is one moisture gradient between the fuel and the air. air circulation in the lower layers may be nearly nonexistent. In some situations. Reverse gradients also occur after prolonged drying. Precipitation soaking down through the fuel into the soil may then produce relative humidities near 100 percent at the lower levels. it is not uncommon for the surface layer to become quite flammable while lower layers are still soaking wet. wet from winter precipitation. the moisture gradient is upward. another between the fuel and the soil. and this can persist for appreciable times.

In some cases. entire dead-fuel volume may contribute to the total North-facing slopes do not receive as heat output of the fire. and at The amount of fuel available for combustion is the same time much more spotty. fire may canopies. Not only nighttime inversion level ordinarily do not cool to does this greatly increase the bound-water vapor the dew point. while it particularly true in open forest stands where much does not form under the tree canopy. cooling of these exposed fuel temperature and relative humidity.Logs under a forest canopy remain more moist through the season than those exposed to the sun and wind. daytime moistures. The highest temperatures and Wind lowest fuel moistures are usually found on During clear weather. in others. the extremes in fuel moisture. and 18-inch diameters. or more. therefore. gradients are thus commonly much greater. surface fuel moistures do pressure. Surface fuel of the surface littler is exposed to direct radiant moistures and accompanying changes in moisture cooling to the sky at night. but it also warms the air near the surface not become as high as those at lower elevations. Change in response to diurnal changes in Similarly at night. intense surface heating as level ground and south exposures. night temperatures above the temperatures as high as 160°F. in open forest often determined by these interior moisture stands than under forests having closed-crown gradients. These curves are 13 – year averages for large logs of 6-. Clouds also tend to reduce the diurnal only skim lightly over the surface. fuel-bed surfaces southwest slopes in the afternoon. and reduces relative humidity. Exposure. so they do not reach the same minimum Effects of Canopy. This is surfaces may cause dew to form on them. In mountain exposed to full midday sum may reach topography. we emphasized the often results in surface fuel moistures 4 to 8 effect of wind on fuel drying by preventing a percent below those in adjacent shaded areas. 190 . Clouds. 12-. The combination Earlier in this section. Elevation. for example.

The reverse is true. even here. The slash of different species dries at different rates. Needles and twigs dry faster on lopped than on unlopped slash. when moist inch apart on two 3/16-inch dowels. may be obtained from the equilibrium moisture content corresponding to the Foehn winds are frequently referred to as immediately surrounding air temperature and drying winds because they are so often ac. dry air determine the moisture content of fuel-moisture flowing at a rapid rate so that it does not become indicator sticks. During daytime purposes. This in turn raises the relative humidity in that aerated needles and hardwood leaves. Each set continuous supply of moisture to maintain a is carefully adjusted 19! . humidity. well- air. season of cutting. however. A set of sticks consists of four 1/2- moist by contact with the surface either by day or inch ponderosa pine sapwood dowels spaced 1/4 night. and the area and lowers the fuel-surface temperature. it should be remembered that wind has quite varied and complex effects on fuel-moisture regimes. Estimating Dead Fuel Moisture rise in vapor pressure adjacent to the fuel. flammability. require longer periods of slopes than on north slopes. mixing may prevent surface air temperatures from Except after rain. thus restricting the increase their moisture content. Very fine. But moderate or strong winds may affect surface The moisture content of dead fuels cannot be temperatures of fuels in the open and thereby measured conveniently in the field. and within species the drying rates depend on degree of shading. For fire-control influence surface fuel moisture. Southwest slopes usually have the seasoning to approach the fuel moisture of their lowest afternoon fuel moistures. dead fuels such as immediately adjacent to fuel surfaces with cooler cured fine grass. it is not necessary to consider slash needle and twig Fuel moistures are affected by aspect. and size of material. it is usually estimated indirectly by heating. Fuel surface layer of larger fuels may be in approximate drying is thereby reduced. In all of these moisture-exchange processes. The important the moisture content of medium-sized fuels is to role of the wind here is to keep that warm. a reasonably accurate estimate of reaching the dew point. older counterparts. it is flammable from the time it is cut. In the the moisture content is rising or falling. But. fuel moistures will be lower throughout the day on south Stems. The 1/2 –inch winds blow over dry fuels. it is warm and extremely dry air A method used in some regions to estimate that is responsible for desiccation. Except for the early morning moisture different from that of older dead fuels. They bring in a dowels are approximately 20 inches long. wind may replace the warm air layers various methods. case of the foehn. it becomes more and more flammable. hours. of course. Within a matter of weeks. it helps to know whether companied by rapid drying of forest fuels. weather. As the slash dries. Often. certain lichens and mosses. At night. and therefore their of surface fuel moisture. turbulent equilibrium with their immediate environments. pressure gradient favorable for fuel-moisture increase. but it is particularly hazardous if added to significant quantities of flammable dead fuels already on the ground. Slash Slash from thinning or harvest cutting of coniferous forests is a special and often particularly hazardous kind of dead fuel. of course.

and after precipitation show that larger fuels. From empirical Fuel-moisture indicator sticks of the ‘1/2-inch size are used to relationships involving amounts of precipitation. 193 . number of days without precipitation. or the moisture-content trends of indicator sticks referred to above. They are weighed at least once every day. These indicated values may be modified by current weather or other factors when necessary to more closely approximate actual field conditions. The indicated moisture represents the cumulative effects of past changing weather factors on these standardized fuel simulators over a period of time preceding the observation. such as logs. By weighing them. to weigh 100 grams when ovendry. moisture content of dead fuels of comparable size. are slow to react to both wetting and drying. and daily They are exposed on a wire rock 10 inches above a bed of litter. The sticks are exposed 10 inches above a litter bed in the open on wire brackets. Other systems and devices may also be used as weather integrators in lieu of moisture indicator stick weights. estimate th. Scales calibrated to read directly in percent moisture content are available. and their moisture contents are computed from their known dry weights. The moisture content of larger fuels is usually estimated from systematic observations of precipitation and some indicator of daily drying conditions. Measurements of the moisture contents of different sizes of fuels before. drying conditions. the moisture content of large fuels can be estimated. during. their moisture content can be obtained. such as maximum temperatures and day length.

however. The major variations in moisture Under suitable drying conditions. Hence. evaluation of the current and fall in the same pattern. The The drying of dead fuels is accomplished by moisture content of a living plant is closely related evaporation. During this period. The ratio of propagation is absorbed by the succulent foliage. The gradual to have a more or less regular seasonal pattern of trend in rising fire danger is subtle. and special reaching a maximum in late spring or early efforts must be made to keep aware of the gradual summer. respond quite differently to weather changes. Large logs may become dry enough to maturity. This slow trend areas. occur in infinite intermixed living and dead fuels do not always rise variety. but it has a pro- foliage and dead-fuel moisture variation. Beyond this time. the flammability of both living and dead fuels will increase. They must be flammability of most live-dead fuel complexes evaluated separately to determine the flammability requires local appraisal and interpretation based on of the complex as a whole at any given time. Stumps and their roots flammability of the complex may become high to may become dry enough to burn deep into the extreme. but usually some amounts of living and dead fuels. 193 . The living foliage of many litter beds. produce increasing flammability until evergreen trees and shrubs may burn well with fall rains begin. increasing foliage accumulative changes in flammability. Both living and dead fuels are adversely become reasonably dry. burn to a white ash residue. affected. The manner in which living and dead fuel One of the most difficult situations to evaluate mixtures may augment or oppose each other is that brought about by drought resulting from depends somewhat on the nature of the local fire consecutive years of deficient precipitation. moisture contents of over 100 percent. probably Differences among species. to its physiology. first the free are seasonal in nature. The different moisture contents in weather and growing seasons. Such weather in relation to the growing season. SUMMARY From this brief discussion of the weather variations are also brought about by extreme heat effects on fuel moistures. They do not burn briskly. In such nounced accumulative effect. it is common for foliage moisture to start usually is not adequately recognized by routine increasing about the time dead fuels begin to dry. because much of the heat needed for fire abnormally deficient in moisture. A brief periods of persistent drought occur in all forest dry spell during a period of new leaf development regions at irregular intervals. By mid or late of living plant foliage and those of dead forest summer. experienced judgment. continued flammability limit of most dead fuels under foliage moisture decreases. coupled with seasonal ordinary field conditions is about 25-30 percent cumulative drying of larger dead fuels and deep moisture content. Thus. Both old and new living foliage will be however. or when the foliage is dormant. and at the same time the Areas with a distinct summer dry season tend ratio of dead to live fuel increases. the foliage has reached the fuels. Living plants and dead fuels dew and adsorb water vapor from the atmosphere. although shorter term water in the cellular spaces evaporates. we can see that the and drought. as well as vagaries in combustion. MIXTURES OF LIVING AND DEAD FUELS We have noted that somewhat different moisture largely offsets the effects of continued processes govern the changes in moisture contents drying of the associated dead fuels. It is also significant that the upper flammability point. often many years and growth may cause intermixed dead fuels to apart. If attached dead twigs and branches will increase such a dry spell occurs after the foliage reaches markedly. methods of computing fire danger. ground. their intermixed dead fuels are necessary to maintain interrelationships in space. Dead fuels absorb moisture through processes involved in moisture content changes are physical contact with liquid water such as rain and very complex. total and relative because of volatile oils released.

195 . In the final These moisture contents are influenced by chapter. air moisture. air and surface one region to another over the North American temperatures. and arrangement. wind. The compactness. as well as by Continent. nature of the drying and wetting processes of dead We have now completed our discussion of the fuels is such that the moisture content of these individual fire-weather elements and their effect on fuels is strongly affected by weather changes. evaporates and is absorbed by the atmosphere.then the bound water held to the cell walls fuel factors such as surface to volume ratio. the moisture content of forest fuels. and cloudiness. we will learn how fire weather varies from precipitation.

which may be thought of as the synthesis of daily fire weather over a long period of time. What is unusual in one region may be commonplace in another. and interrelationships between regional weather patterns becomes a useful daily fire-control management device. and one originating in or penetrating a region may then be a forewarning of what is soon likely to happen in neighboring regions. either temporarily or permanently. On the other hand. is a dominant factor in fire-control planning. Fire-control personnel in line and staff positions who are transferred. differences. many large-scale weather patterns ignore regional boundaries. Chapter 12 FIRE CLIMATE REGIONS The fire weather occurring on a particular day is a dominant factor in the fire potential on that day. Understanding of regional fire climatology is critically essential to effective information exchange up to the international level. to a new region will find this knowledge helpful in adapting to the changed environment. climate is the major factor in determining the amount and kind of vegetation growing in an area. In a broad sense. and it is vital to the continuing development of fire-control lore. Knowledge of the similarities. Climate sets the pattern of variation in the fire-protection job—seasonally and between one year and another. Climatic differences create important variations in the nature of fire problems among localities and among regions. and this vegetation makes up the fuels available for wild-land fires. Fire climate. A weather pattern that is significant to fire behavior in one region may be unimportant in another. 196 . It establishes the framework within which current weather influences fire-control operations.

while the or combinations of these or other integrating other may have monthly means ranging only from systems. temperatures ranging from 20 to 80°F. and the warm season is dry. or integration over a period of time of the weather In many systems. example given above. for example. the from about 20°N. Because of the considered. because they are the most variable. same annual precipitation. while the most circulation patterns also contribute to the diversity critical periods may be in spring and fall. In the precipitation drought and wet periods. from fuel-moisture indicator sticks. The extremes of temperatures within months rating is dependent on current fire weather. the frequency. the with time. Green-fuel moistures may be included by 40 to 60°F. they are of much less importance to the continent. potential responds to the combined effects of all of the weather between rains. two areas may have the dependent on the fire climate. the providing they occur in dry weather. let us say humidity or dew point. seasonal and average fire-danger ratings are In a similar situation. keep in mind that one of the most important and concentrated during one portion of the year in behavior characteristics of weather is its variation the other area. pressure and general circulation affecting this cipitation. We will consider first. in a general way. the other may the matureness of brush foliage. but one of the areas may have monthly mean measurements. Normal rainfall. simple averages of the weather temperature. but if they occur with pre. the frequency of the fire-weather elements. The shape of the fire potential during the warm season may be continent. Thus. the often have strong winds. and the temperature and precipitation fire climate. while may also be an important consideration. little about the fire potential unless we know when sidering the weather elements individually. it makes considerable The areas of North America in which wild- difference in fire climate whether or not the land fires are a problem have a wide variety of fire precipitation is concentrated in the warm season or climates. Two areas may which may be obtained from the atmospheric have the same annual mean temperature. the warm to adjacent oceans. to nearly 70°N. FIRE CLIMATE REGIONS The fire climate of a region is the composite elements and other factors affecting fire potential. elements are of little control value.. from precipitation 50°F. patterns. Latitude alone accounts for major the cold season of the year. its location with respect extreme. winds are very important in fire behavior. But the amount may be In studying fire climate. and similar details. be an interesting bit of information. its topography. it is necessary to evenly distributed throughout the year in one area.. Where the reverse is true. the kind of weather accompanying it. The first area may have a serious fire estimating the curing stage of lesser vegetation or problem during the warm months. 197 . we need to know much more than extremes. only the weather elements are elements which affect fire behavior. may climate of a region. and estimates of dead-fuel moisture. The seasonal distribution. Fire the rain falls. but this tells us Fire climate cannot be described by con. Strong of climatic types. If it is concentrated in changes from south to north. A region may geographical features of North America. fire behavior. These latitudes range the cold season. Then we will discuss the fire climate in Fire-danger rating is an integration of weather each of 15 regions of North America. and the hemispheric air season may have little fire potential. The nature of the effects of various weather elements on principal elements incorporated are wind speed. and the duration must all the computed averages of past weather be considered in describing precipitation in the fire measurements. Daily fire-danger not.

A narrow coastal plain separates to the climatology of the region as a whole. It is the continent’s influence the North American climate is largely most massive mountain expanse and forms the determined by the surface configuration of the land Continental Divide. Fraser River in southern British Columbia. increasing in number north. Basin. beginning in the north portion of southern particularly noteworthy that there is no such barrier California. It is somewhat both its north-south and east-west dimensions higher than the Coast Range. It is also important that. The Sierra Madre mountains lie on the far western side of the Occidental plays a similar role in Northern Mexico. where it becomes the Mexican interior Alaska and adjoining Canada. In major mountain systems have a north-south the United States a large part is called the Great orientation. all of the Plateau. Because of both topographic and coastal ranges extending. It is Range. The and the adjoining Great Plains—which slope Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. South of the tip of Appalachian Mountains represent the only Lower California. coastline from Mexico to southern British East of the Rocky Mountains. Glaciers are common along the Canadian Cap. The Sierra-Cascade significant influence on general air circulation. is upland The entire west coast is rimmed by a series of country. shielded from direct Pacific influence by the East of the Rocky Mountains. The region.000 feet in elevation. continent except two mountain chains along the The vast intermountain region west of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico seaboards. This glaciated region extends into. GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURES OF NORTH AMERICA The Interior Valley and a succession of coastal valley systems The extent of the North American Continent in through Oregon and Washington. From a United States and the Sierra Madre Oriental in narrow beginning in northern British Columbia. From there northward. all the northern New Mexico. Furthermore. however. the broad Mississippi Valley system West have additional influences on climate. east of the upward to the foot of the Rocky Mountains from Gulf of California. the mountains of Lower California. separating water that flows to mass. How both types combine to Canada and the United States. masses over much of the land area. This The interiors of Canada and Alaska are source range bounds the east side of California’s Central regions for continental polar air and are 198 . These two Rocky Mountains and northern Sierra Madre is chains are the Appalachian Mountains in the known as the Cordilleran Highlands. therefore. is a secondary range largely Southern Canada to Texas. with the exception extends southward in a generally broadening belt to of the Brooks and associated ranges enclosing Northern Mexico. This left a land of many lakes and low relief and Alaskan coasts. with only infrequent latitudinal differences. moraines. The mountains extend from the quarter of North America is covered by significant Arctic Ocean west of the Mackenzie River to mountain topography. parallels the Coast Range up to the between the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. The continent is The Rocky Mountain system forms the also surrounded by water and is invaded by various backbone of that portion of the continent lying in maritime air masses. including several permits the full development of continental air peaks in excess of 14. from southern Lower California to sub-regional characteristics that are also important southern Alaska. and diminishes in width farther south. the Pacific from that flowing to all other It is particularly important that only about a surrounding waters. all of Canada Columbia. covered mostly by glacial till and numerous ward. and Two disconnected interior ranges in the Far connects with. it becomes the mainland western topographic barrier on the continent that has a coast range of Mexico. as its name implies. there are some interruptions. We will the mountains from the sea over most of this note them in some detail later in this chapter. the Coast and parts of the Northern United States were Mountains more commonly rise abruptly from near scraped and gouged by the prehistoric Polar Ice the water. it Mexico.

and the Rocky Mountain development of storms. We will review them briefly provinces). being largely frozen. The As Mexico’s land mass narrows toward the south Southwest Atlantic. the climate becomes warm and humid. and high in the polar regions. this influence extends prevailing westerly winds. The Sierra Madre Occidental in the west inland because the prevailing air movement is limits the surface effects of Pacific maritime air to offshore. which flows The Pacific Ocean has a strong maritime in. here as they affect the North American Continent. moist air waters. The lack of mountain barriers warm waters of the North Pacific are the source of also allows warm. The the absence of any major east-west mountain southern branch becomes the California Current ranges across the continent.protected from maritime influence by the western Puget Sound. along the Horse from the Atlantic and Gulf between the Tropics Latitudes (equivalent to Northern Mexico). do not fluence on the whole length of the western shore of ordinarily extend far inland because of the North America. Sierra-Cascade. The northern branch mountain chains. high around 30°N. Mexico to flow northward. becomes the Alaska Current and flows northward this cP air can penetrate far to the south because of and then westward along the Alaska coast. interior of Northern Mexico is little affected by The Atlantic Ocean influences the climate of polar continental air. affecting both summer and winter climates of much of the eastern part of the continent. The same is Because of its generally high elevation. This warm air The Bering Sea also contributes some constitutes a somewhat deeper layer than the moisture for winter precipitation. but the effects do not extend far restricted. effect on regional climate. Influences of the Oceans Influences of the warm Gulf Stream. Maritime influence is also the east coast. Labrador and as far south as Nova Scotia. and by the The Great Lakes form the only interior water Sierra Madre Occidental and Baja California system of sufficient size to have any appreciable Mountains in Mexico. The relatively the Gulf of Mexico. ranges in the United States and Canada. the true of Hudson Bay during the winter months. Upon leaving the source regions. and Gulf of between the adjacent warm Pacific and Gulf Mexico are important sources of warm. It often reaches and sometimes crosses the coast in both summer and winter. region for dry polar continental air. Caribbean Sea. The Sierra Madre Oriental limits strong cooling influence on temperatures in the surface effects of Gulf air to the coastal plan. northward near the southeast coast. They have a moderating The ocean current known as the North Pacific effect in both winter and summer and contribute Drift approaches the west coast at the latitudes of some moisture for precipitation in adjacent areas. The icy waters of Baffin Bay have a the coastal strip. The southflowing cold flowing southward along the west coast. PRESSURE AND GENERAL CIRCULATION The general features of the hemispheric the Polar Front zone around 55° or 60°N. (the pressure zones and wind circulation patterns were latitude of the northern portion of the Canadian discussed in chapter 5. while the Arctic continental air and is less influenced by the Ocean. Prevailing air is channeled between the Rocky Mountain westerly winds off the temperate waters of the system and the less formidable Appalachian Pacific have a strong moderating influence along Mountains. The wintertime inland near the surface for only relatively short temperature contrasts between the Gulf Stream and distances because of the barriers provided by the the continent create suitable conditions for the Coast. However. These pressure zones give rise to: (1) The Over the oceans the pressure is usually low near typical northeast trade winds blowing onshore the Equator. low in 199 . is a principal source mountain systems. moist air from the Gulf of moisture for winter precipitation. where it divides.

they are prevalent only seasonal heating and cooling change. an area a few In the summer. among other and higher along the west coast than the east coast. A map of the mean winter temperature shows The sharp temperature gradient across the Pacific that temperatures are higher along the coastline is largely 200 . Thus. Hudson Bay and northern Alaska. The Pacific and Azores—Bermuda high-pres- Over the North American Continent the sure systems. as we learned in chapter 1. The effect elevation area many hundreds of miles farther of the lesser angle of the sun’s rays in the northern north. The blocking effect of the high temperatures below freezing. latitudes is partially offset by the longer days there. The Brooks Range in northern pressure and wind systems move somewhat north Alaska is a local barrier against them in that area. decreases with height. Another major influence on temperature west-to-east airflow. High-pressure centers tend to portions of the continent. domi- pressure zones are not as persistent as over the nate the summertime wind pattern over large adjacent oceans. coasts. almost all of the interior of in the interior of the continent than over the Canada and the Northern United States have mean adjacent oceans. The annual range of mountain ranges. factors. As far south. At any given latitude. With the northward develop over land during the winter. pressure centers tend to develop there during the prevailing winds along the west coast gradually summer. and the Central and Eastern United States. In addition. (2) prevailing westerlies off the Pacific to summer. In between summer and winter there are shift from generally southwesterly to northwest and wide variations in circulation over the continent. with their clockwise airflow. The coldest western mountain ranges also influences the mean temperatures are found in the region between temperature pattern.and 30°N. These centers move southward at intervals as An intense heat Low in summer in the waves or surges of cold north wind. the west coast is sheltered are higher in summer and cooler in winter over from the cold continental air masses by high land than over water. and the cold north winds do not penetrate polar easterlies north of the Polar Front zone. In the general latitude. the west coast is more patterns is the distribution of land and water strongly influenced by the adjacent ocean than the surfaces. movement of the Pacific High during the spring. these high-pressure systems gradually between 30°N. The circulation around the Bermuda High is The wintertime continental high pressure the dominant feature along the Mexican Gulf coast gives rise to migratory high-pressure centers. The Great Lakes A third major influence on temperature is have a slight moderating effect on the temperature elevation because. north. there is a close These differences are more marked at higher relationship between average temperatures and latitudes than at lower latitudes. radiation at the earth’s surface. By full summer. and (3) weaken. the pattern. this area shows slightly higher mean temperature through the troposphere usually temperatures than points to the east or west. temperature between winter and summer is greater In January. and the Polar Front zone. differences in temperatures thousand feet above sea level may have average between the northern and southern sections of the maximum temperatures comparable to a low continent are much less than in winter. mean temperatures east coast. these in Northern Canada. Because of this. During the transition from winter TEMPERATURE VARIATIONS Temperatures vary with the intensity of solar east and west coasts than they are in the interior.. and low. in summer. extending as Southwest influences the general weather pattern in far south as the Southern States where they meet most of the Southwestern United States and warmer air along the South Atlantic and Gulf Northern Mexico. and south again in winter.

A third. the than in October. autumn temperatures are higher up through British Columbia and into interior than spring temperatures in North America. lifting of orographic lifting. such as the Sierra-Cascades. The effect temperature from south to north is due to latitudinal differences in of latitude is much less pronounced in summer than in winter. remaining precipitable moisture. due to the influx air flows across the crests. are some exceptions. There Alaska. The inland valleys receive less 201 . Along the western slopes of the next moisture content of the air and vertical motions major ranges. with amounts decreasing both north and leeward side. PRECIPITATION PATTERNS Both annual precipitation and seasonal dis.Mean winter temperatures reflect the ocean influence. (2) lifting of the moist air again causes an increase in major pressure systems. but also to some extent In general. which extract most of the across major mountain systems. and final. The lifting force has is on the Pacific Northwest coast of the United ceased. Maximum fall has left the air less moist. in Texas and the interior of The highest temperatures in summer are British Columbia. Highest temperatures are found in the desert regions of the Southwest. with higher Mean summer temperatures also show the ocean influence with temperature along the coast than in the interior. in the American Southwest. further associated with surface heating and cooling. the sun’s inclination and the length of daylight. temperatures are higher in April found in the lowlands of the Southwest. This lifting has its greatest effect these westerlies occurs on the western slopes of the when the prevailing moist wind currents blow Rocky Mountains. which further reduces the south of this region. on the Northern Pacific coastal plains and the there is a decrease in precipitation activity as the western slopes of the mountains. due to the cool California Current off the coast and lowest temperatures are found in Northeastern the intense daytime heating which is felt. and often there is subsidence on the States. In North America. the greatest precipitation is In each of these cases of orographic lifting. The decrease in temperatures lower along the coast than in the interior. Previous precipitation of moist air from the Pacific Ocean. precipitation than the coastal plains and coastal tribution of precipitation depend on: (1) The mountains. not only Canada. and (3) frontal and the total precipitation.

Lowest amounts occur in the Great Basin. The influence of Gulf air extends northward well into Canada. or longer period fluctuations precipitation is along the Pacific Northwest coast and the Gulf of alternating wet years and dry years. short summer. In considering the climatic characteristics produced summertime temperatures of 100°F. This explains why the inland valleys receive less precipitation than the coastal plains and mountains. Maximum only infrequent relief. Annual precipitation increases to the east and south under the more frequent intrusions of moist air from the Gulf and the Atlantic. Such a leeward area is said to amount. East of the Rocky Mountains. mountains 202 . Wet and dry years may occur irregularly in poorly defined patterns. and the Arctic region. and ranges from semidesert to desert. similarity to the shadows cast by the FIRE CLIMATE REGIONS Considering geographic and climatic factors 1. The greatest annual precipitation is along the Gulf coast and the southern end of the Appalachians. The Great Basin area in the United States lies in such a rain shadow. Common ones are: Normally moist but with occasional critically dry years. a characteristic variation can usually be identified. Interior Alaska and the Yukon together. but of a particular region. Most of these spruce and aspen. The high coastal local exceptions. Winters are extremely cold. it is possible to delineate 15 broad The vegetation in this regain is predominantly climatic regions over the continent. and its im- portance as a source of precipitation is replaced by moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. In most areas of the continent. varies widely over the continent and is often as important in fire weather as the total annual degree of saturation. air of Pacific origin has become relatively dry. We will discuss some of these charac- lie in a rain shadow. there is considerable variation in annual rainfall.. The Yukon Basin distinctive character affecting the wildland fire has a warm. also have occurred in generalities must be made and that there are many July. Within any one climatic region. western mountains as the sun goes down. or as wet and dry fluctuations of variable duration. typically dry with Annual precipitation varies widely over North America. with some tundra and other differ in one or more aspects. the Southwest The seasonal distribution of precipitation semidesert and desert regions. a term derived from its teristics region by region in the following section. we should remember that temperatures as low as 29°F. giving each a lesser vegetation in the north. coast. Continental heating has problem.

(7) Southwest (including adjacent Mexico). (4) Great Basin. (6) Southern Rocky Mountains. based on geographic and climatic factors. The bargraphs show the monthly and annual precipitation in inches for a representative station in each of the fire climate regions. (11) Great Lakes. (14) Southern States. (13) North Atlantic. (8) Great Plains. (10) Sub-Arctic and Tundra. (9) Central and Northwest Canada. and (15) Mexican Central Plateau. (12) Central States. Fire climate regions of North America. (5) Northern Rocky Mountains. (2) North Pacific Coast. 203 . (3) South Pacific Coast. are as follows: (1) Interior Alaska and the Yukon.

Annual precipitation is only about 10 to 15 usually holds the fire danger to moderate levels inches. South Pacific Coast The rainfall in this region is mostly con. extensive coniferous stands in the higher Annual rainfall varies from 60 to 150 inches mountains. The valley or more locally. some summers are in convective showers and with weak fronts. The lowest temperatures cause high fire danger west of the Cascades. But only short distances inland. Cordilleran Highlands and their parallel chains of The fire season usually runs from June lesser mountains. with systems to the east of the Coast Ranges receive 12 persistent droughts common in southernmost to 20 inches in British Columbia. Widespread summer thunderstorms. The resulting dry easterly winds will throughout the winter. cold-front passage followed by a bulge of the Pacific High extending inland over the coast. Summers are usually rainless. local areas along the coastal slopes have much The annual precipitation is generally light. coastal areas are comparatively warm the coast. The Brooks and erate temperatures results in a buildup of other ranges block the inflow of even colder cP extremely heavy fuel volumes. may produce extreme fire danger in late The usual fire season starts in May after summer and early fall. with some areas receiving over 150 around 10 to 20 inches at lower elevations. The maritime (continental polar) air from the north. but also results in adiabatic rare event. One is a September. warming as the air flows from higher elevations again because of the Pacific Ocean influence. along the coast. in the Olympic Mountains. Although precipitation is through September. summer rainfall is in the lowlands. particularly along the immediate coast. these periods. greater totals. However. fires are characterized by high which includes the northern extension of the intensities. but this is a the marine air offshore. occur when a cP air mass crosses the coastal Airflow from the northeast quadrant not only keeps mountains and covers the Pacific coast. and as low as 20 to 30 inches in temperatures are somewhat lower and summer some northern California coastal sections. Because of the maritime east of the Cascades at the time a trough lies along influence. Dry thunderstorms are not and Washington. Summer temperatures are rather cool. very dry and warm with high fire danger. In northern California and in western Oregon dry summer days. it is so scant that wildland number and severity from the coast inland. the maximum occurring during the summer during most seasons. strong. During Precipitation is highest in the southern portion. 80 to 100 inches along the Pacific influence. Lightning fires increase in maximum in summer. and long-distance spotting. influence. averaging 60 to 80 inches along Temperatures along the immediate coast are British Columbia and the south Alaska coastal moderated both winter and summer by the ocean plains.generally prevent the invasion of mP (maritime The combination of high rainfall and mod- polar) air masses at low levels. Many temperatures average considerably higher. North Pacific Coast produce a warming and drying foehn effect. 30 to 50 inches in sections. and usually very light. The This is a region of rain-forest types with second type follows when higher pressure develops heavy coniferous stands. The attendant northeasterly winds blowing downslope 2. Pre- inches. 204 . clear. dry north to east winds infrequent. brush at intermediate levels. fuels dry out considerably during the long. winter Northwest coast. 3. There is a high frequency of cloudy or foggy days throughout the year. down to sea level. with Washington and Oregon. Two synoptic weather melting of the winter snows and lasts until types produce this critical fire weather. firewhirls. and 15 to 20 inches in little precipitation reaching northern California. annual cipitation in the mountains ranges up to 60 inches precipitation ranges up to 240 inches. The vegetation in this region consists of grass centrated in the winter months.

the ground. Another is similar to the east. occasionally result in several This Great Basin High type produces the foehn- hundred local fires within a 2. this pattern produces very region farther north. Post-frontal offshore flow can bring high fire danger to the Pacific coast from British Columbia to southern California. type Mono winds along the west slopes of the The fire season usually starts in June and lasts Sierras and Coast Ranges. occurrence is in November.or 3-day period. and there is a Several synoptic weather types produce secondary peak in March. and the Santa Ana through September in the north. except stability. One is the cold-front passage type occurs when a ridge or closed High aloft followed by winds from the northeast quadrant persists over the western portion of the United —the same as was described above for the coastal States. high temperatures. but in the south winds of southern California. particularly in the mountains of the that the high is farther south in the Great Basin. A third high fire-danger high fire danger. At the surface. The area affected by the pattern on this sea-level chart is northern and central California. Peak Santa Ana critical fire weather can occur year round. northern half. 205 . The dashed lines are the past daily positions of the front. The bulge of the Pacific High moving inland to the rear of the front produces the offshore northeasterly winds. and air-mass in- wind type of the Pacific Northwest coast. low humidities.

because of In the Great Basin or intermountain region the the high elevation and good radiational cooling. with their individual peaks and lesser Oregon and western Idaho to less than 10 inches in mountain systems. so major cold entire Great Basin is in 206 . This is largely a plateau region but Annual precipitation is rather low. The Great Basin High type develops when a high-pressure center of either mP or cP origin moves into the Great Basin area. The track and past daily positions of the High are shown. The Rocky Mountains generally prevent the as in the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon and westward movement of cold cP air masses from the Washington and the Wasatch Range in Utah. vegetation consists of generally sparse sagebrush Summer heating is very effective. 4. offshore foehn-type winds from the northeast or east are produced. Great Basin waves with high winds are rare. At higher elevations. Winter temperatures are quite low. The Great Plains to the Great Basin. This sea-level chart shows a pattern which produced strong Santa Ana winds in southern California. If a trough of low pressure lies along the coast. with some pine and fir at higher temperatures are high. between the Rocky Mountains Nevada and Utah. however. and summer and grass. elevations. ranging occupies a significant portion of the Cordilleran from 10 to 20 inches in eastern Washington and Highlands. and the Sierra-Cascades. precipitation is higher. generally 20 to 40 inches.

air-mass The fire season normally starts in June and instability during the summer. Summer precipitation is the pressure pattern tends to be fiat. 207 . At the surface in the Great Basin showery and scattered. while in spring it is the United States. precipitation reaches the ground. illustrated by this 500-mb. Much of the precipitation occurs in the One pattern is the same as is described above for wintertime. chart. often with a generally light. An upper-air pattern associated with high fire danger during the summer in the Western United States has the subtropical High aloft located over the Far West. low humidities. a pattern maximum in spring. the pattern moisture during the forced ascent. The mP air masses which enter the October. lasts through September and. and unstable atmospheric conditions near the surface. Several synoptic weather types produce high Cascade Ranges and have lost much of their fire danger in the Great Basin. dry days with considerable low-level. Both timber and range fires are common. occasionally. a rain shadow. that is. Often. Precipitation is more general with an upper-air ridge over the western portion of and widespread in winter. This pattern produces hot. region from the west have crossed the Sierra. Intensive local heating produces thermal trough extending from the Southwest to frequent afternoon thunderstorms. but usually little the Canadian border. although some areas have a secondary the South Pacific coast region. produces very high temperatures. aloft is more distinctive than the surface pattern. This pattern.

Many A third weather pattern. develops whenever the anticyclonic portion of this region in Canada includes the Short-wove troughs aloft. If the cold front high-level thunderstorms. fir. the Northern Rocky Mountain region. and spruce stands dominate northern portion. The a fire starter. 208 . Northern Rocky Mountains the southern portion of this region than in the Heavy pine. Past daily positions of the short-wave troughs are shown by heavy dashed lines. windiness with it will produce a peak in the fire danger. daytime heating and region from northwest to southeast. transported moist air from over the Gulf of Mexico Another upper-air pattern affecting this region across the Southwest and northward into the Great occurs when short-wave troughs move through the Basin region. which may cause associated with a short-wave trough is dry. the numerous lightning fires. steered by orographic lifting of the moist air produces many northwesterly flow aloft. This 500-mb. These fronts are more likely to be dry in 5. can cause high fire danger in the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain regions from late spring to early fall. chart shows short-wave troughs moving eastward and southeastward in a northwesterly flow pattern. when accompanied by dry surface cold fronts.Subsidence beneath the ridge may result in very circulation around a closed High aloft has low humidities that sometimes reach the surface. which is important as mountain peaks extend above timberline. Then.

followed by generally light precipitation bringing subsiding air to the surface. chart. extremely low humidities can region. Most of the precipitation falls in the both the Canadian and United States portions of winter and spring in the southern portion of this the region. In the winds on the east slope of the Rockies produce southern portion. there often is widespread rainfall moderate temperatures and are effective in until June. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is transported to the Southwest and the Western States at mid-tropospheric levels when a close High aloft moves into the position shown on this 500-mb. Winter temperatures are during July and August with increasing fire quite low. danger. ranges and dissecting river courses. in addition to There is a gradual drying out of forest fuels the Rocky Mountains. Cordilleran Highlands with numerous mountain during the summer. so inches in the valleys to 40 to 60 inches locally in that frequent and severe lightning fires occur in the mountains. Frequent thunderstorms may occur then Annual precipitation ranges from 10 to 20 but little or no precipitation reaches the surface. 209 . in most years. and summer temperatures are moderate. Also. Daytime heating and orographic lifting of the moist air combine to produce many high-level thunderstorms. Occasional chinook Winter precipitation is in the form of snow. high levels in the atmosphere. while in the northern portion it is fairly result from large-scale subsidence of air from very well distributed throughout the year.

but earlier or later lightning during this time of the year are usually periods of critical fire weather may be caused by not difficult to handle. the pattern producing peaks in fire danger or those which cause dry chinook winds is important on the eastern slopes. but it also includes the southern portion of the Cordilleran Highlands. Fires started by or July through September. In the area between the The fire danger peaks as front and the Rockies the air flows downslope. found east of the Rockies. The most fall on the eastern slopes of the mountains. The Southwest is characterized by an annual There are strong chinook winds with asso. Mexico) is mostly grass. while the higher Precipitation is generally around 10 to 20 elevations of the rest of the region have more inches annually in the valleys and on eastern moderate temperatures. and southwesterly flow over the region. extremely hot and dry summers. August. Precipitation is light but not infrequent late spring and early summer. and summer because of clear skies and low humidities. Southwest Great Basin region. The low-elevation areas of the 6. humidities are acutely low. elevations on the western slopes. The most critical fire weather In this pattern. the latter being Mountain region consists of brush and scattered larger in the summer than in the winter. The synoptic weather types producing high fire danger are similar to those described for the 7. chaparral. These dangerous fire season is generally May and June winds sometimes bring subsiding air from high when the problem of dry thunderstorms is levels in the atmosphere down to the surface and combined with drought. and September. thunderstorms. the airflow aloft is usually at right occurs with a broadscale pattern aloft showing a angles to the mountain range. the burned acreage is small. Many peaks extend maximum temperatures. the chinook winds. Later in the summer. 210 . In the first scattered storms in the snow. dry Sonora. This occurs as winter rain or snow. The temperatures are moderate for the latitude because extreme southwest low-elevation portions have of the elevation influence. with annual precipitation at higher elevations is caused by the precipitation in some areas as little as 5 to 10 additional orographic lifting of mP air masses as inches. weather and the patterns producing high-level and ponderosa pine. and frequent summer slopes. reaches the ground. In addition. and 30 to 40 inches locally at higher thunderstorms during July. The fire season usually extends from June or winds are strong. thunderstorms accounts for the lower fire danger The fire season normally extends from June during the summer season. Southern Rocky Mountains Southwest have a large annual range and a large The vegetation in the Southern Rocky diurnal range of temperatures. Particularly important are the The vegetation in the Southwest (including ridge-aloft pattern which produces warm. and July through September. and as they are forced across the Rocky Mountains. mostly as thunderstorms. Since the Southwest has a generally high level The synoptic patterns which produce high fire of fire danger in spring and again in fall. The region in which wildfire is thunderstorms. and fir and spruce on elevations have both lower mean and lower higher ridges and plateaus. temperatures are very high during the daytime winter temperatures are quite low. These storms cause wildland fires. Rainfall with produce extremely low humidities. a problem is essentially a plateau. Spring and early-summer above timberline. little precipitation during the summer. The higher pine at lower elevations. Most rains accompanying the frequent summer of the precipitation in the winter is in the form of thunderstorms. minimum of fire danger in the winter months and a ciated warm and dry conditions in the spring and secondary minimum in August. the danger are the ridge aloft and dry cold-front important synoptic patterns are those which cause passages. As in the Northern Rockies. but ordinarily thunderstorms are usually wet. ridge to the east and a trough to the west of the a High is located in the Great Basin and a front is region. sage. temperatures are high. The heavier The Southwest is quite dry. while at the surface.

The the fire danger. In this case. moisture is brought from the Gulf frequent presence of cP air masses of Mexico in a deep layer. producing high temperatures and acutely low humidities. cultivated lands. 8. Then. pattern favorable for thunderstorms has the subtropical High aloft to the north of the region. Fuels are generally too light and sparse to aloft. and the thunderstorms 211 . short-wave troughs move through this pattern and produce rain which reaches the ground and reduces cause a temporary increase in wind speed. and timber in isolated moisture brought in is usually in a shallow layer regions. New Mexico. A High is located in the Great Basin and a front is in the Plains. fire-starting type and appear when the fuels are areas. during 3 November days chinook winds progressed southward from Montana and Wyoming to Colorado. as the drastically from winter to summer—due to the pattern persists. Temperatures in the Great Plains vary dry and the fire potential is high. In the area between the front and the Rockies. Great Plains and southeasterly flow bringing moist air from over the Gulf of Mexico to the Southwest region. This winter sea-level chart illustrates the synoptic type producing chinook winds along the east slope of the Rockies. The resulting thunderstorms tend to be of the create a serious fire hazard except in the timbered dry. strong winds blow downslope. Vegetation in the Great Plains consists of When this pattern becomes established. Airflow aloft is perpendicular to the mountain range. the first grasses. and Texas.

At air is less frequent in the western than eastern the same time. and the occasional presence of cT Precipitation in the Great Plains is generally and mT air masses in summer. Winter precipitation is usually in the form latitudinal range in summer temperature. and arrives as a summertime. mainly in the form of convective relatively dry air mass. particularly in the light to moderate. 10 to 20 inches in the northwest to 20 to 40 inches since no mountain barrier exists. cT or mT air may persist in the portions. also in the air from the Pacific must cross the western south. the ridge at 500 mb. in the winter. increasing both from north to southern portions. frequently. southern Great Basin. The Plains are open to south and from west to east. and these air in the southeast. In the summer. The western portion of the Plains masses sometimes penetrate to the Southern Plains is in the Rocky Mountain rain shadow. showers and frequent thunderstorms. This. Thunder- 212 . In this spring example. Maritime of snow in the north and. Also. Southwesterly flow aloft often brings high fire danger to the Southwest. Peaks in fire danger occur with the passage of short-wave troughs aloft and their associated dry surface cold fronts. Amounts range from intrusions of winter cP air from Northern Canada. is to the east and the trough to the west of the affected regions. mT air masses often influence the Northern Plains. in and even to the Gulf of Mexico. accounts for the low precipitation. and southern Rocky Mountain regions. Maximum precipitation occurs in the early mountains to reach the Plains. and fronts are more intense in the eastern Southern Plains and thus account for a wide portion. cP part.

In this example. because of The western portion of the Great Plains is higher humidities. but these are more important more frequent. the western or northwestern portion of the High is the most critical firs-danger area. The regions affected depend upon the track taken by the High. An mP air mass enters the continent. although the summer season. to the regions farther 213 . the flow aloft was meridional and the High plunged southward along the Rockies and then moved eastward. The combination of extremely low region are associated with the Pacific High synoptic humidities and mild temperatures can create short type. Some periods occur with Highs from Hudson Bay although chinook occurrence in the winter may be or Northwest Canada. and reaches the region east of the Rockies about as dry as cP air masses. periods of extreme fire danger in spring and fall. as a high-pressure area. storms are usually wet and cause fewer fires than in The fire season usually lasts from April through the West. Usually. or the chinook type. October. east slopes of the Rockies and extend some distance Most critical fire-weather periods in this into the Plains. is less severe than spring or fall subject to chinook winds which blow down the (except in the Black Hills). the Bermuda High type. In other cases. the flow aloft may be zonal and the High will take a predominantly easterly course. usually in the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia. loses much of its moisture as it moves across the mountains. The Pacific High synoptic type is very common and can bring high fire danger to all regions east of the Rockies.

often causing a heat moves eastward across the mountains into the wave. the dominantly of spruce. Warm. dry air from Mexico flows breaks off of the Pacific high-pressure cell and northward into the Plains. The Bermuda High type is most important in vegetation in this part of Canada consists pre- the southern portion of this region. poplar. and aspen semipermanent Bermuda High extends far westward across the Gulf States and into Texas. ridge aloft is located over the middle of the The Pacific high type occurs when an mP air mass continent. east. This is the typical drought pattern for the eastern regions. Nonforest types account for most of the mountains. cuts off Gulf moisture. In this type. comparatively dry and mild air mass. Highest fire danger is found on either the fore or rear sides of 9. Central and Northwest Canada the High. The Bermuda High is a persistent summer Great Plains following a Pacific cold front. A westward extension of the semipermanent Bermuda High. It is most frequent in spring. summer. and early fall and may persist for long periods of time. The chinook type has been described above. With the exception of the southern prairies. pine. often well into Texas. shown on this sea-level chart. The mP pattern and sometimes causes long periods of air loses much of its moisture in crossing the drought. is most important in the Southern States but can produce high fire danger in any region east of the Rockies. Subsidence and clear skies produce low humidities and usually high temperatures. A 214 . and arrives in the Plains as a area burned. The Bermuda High type.

and with shower activity are frequent. Winter summer days are not as long. On clear days. Strong winds and low humidities are region and southward pathway for cold cP air common. Proceeding southward and eastward. and with squall through the central part of the region. Winter precipitation is mostly in the form extremity. Lightning fires are common on often are thunderstorms with accompanying both sides of the St. Winter snows are generally light of snow. Much of the scrub spruce forest in the south merging with open vegetation in the region reflects an extensive past tundra in the north. The geographic extent of this region is so Humidities are normally moderate to high except great that it is not practical to designate any during brief periods when cP and mP air masses particular fire season for the area as a whole. maximum temperatures temperatures are variable. mild mP air masses from the west. predominantly clear. a summer fire season. the the region has been heavily glaciated. Even north and some additional hardwoods in the south. supports scattered patches of from the long daylight hours. The Strong winds are common with intense principal cyclone tracks during the summer run storms in fall. Sub-Arctic and Tundra spite of the short growing season in the far This region. northwest portion of the region. or any The Great Lakes are sufficiently large to combination of these. Great Lakes The far northwest portion of the region has The vegetation in the Great Lakes region long. These rains thunderstorms. The region serves as both a source summer. fir. though the summer season is short. It is all low glaciated terrain. and up to 30 inches at the eastern summer. The average annual region is moderate. Annual precipitation is about 10 to 15 inches in the This region is glaciated with mostly low northwest and up to 20 to 25 inches in the east. but northwest. although the season temperatures are quite cold. In summer. and summer is longer. 215 . the region is may be considerably higher here than in the subjected to cool cP air masses from the north. comparatively good tree growth results Delta to the Atlantic. relief. A common characteristic is very low winter The fire season is principally during mid- temperatures. frequencies in virtually all parts of the region. fall fire season. It is amounts vary from 8 to 10 inches in the far fairly well distributed throughout the year. Precipitation distribution is an important part The annual precipitation in the Great Lakes of the regional climatology. and spring. generally over 30 inches. geographical extent of the region results in There is considerable evidence of severe past fire significantly different summer temperature and history. Summer usual for at least half of the total precipitation to precipitation is largely in the form of showers and come in the form of summer rains. extending from the Mackenzie northwest. lines and strong cold fronts in the summer. and they occur with varying Great Lakes area. The large north-south and east-west with apparently half or more caused by lightning. masses. except for the more broken topography of More precipitation falls in the summer than in the mountain foothills along the western boundary. so it is intense cyclones involving mT air masses. influence the climate of portions of the region. For are warmed by heating and subsidence before example.forest with various mixtures of other species. locally there may be both a spring and much moisture can be added to them. to 20 inches in southern portions of the most areas have somewhat larger amounts in Prairie provinces. In 10. winter. but cloudy days warm and moist mT air masses from the south. winter. moisture regimes from one part of the region to another. fire history. including the occasionally and temporarily alleviated by summer western slopes of the Appalachians. but most of showers. and spruce in the to rapid and extensive drying of forest fuels. Lawrence and in the northern lightning fires. The average number of fires is small. sunny days contributing consists mainly of aspen. drying is only There are several upland areas. 11. and the greatest amounts occur with because the cold air holds little moisture.

but there is a fair distribution throughout the Hudson Bay. pattern aloft. they tend to intensify mostly hardwoods. Northwest Canada. There are occasional Occasionally the region is affected by a Bermuda dry summers. If the air mass is moist. vegetation becomes green and hardwoods leaf out. The surface heating and subsidence as they move to lake breeze is cool and humid and moderates the lower latitudes. The The fire season generally lasts from April northern portion experiences brief periods of high through October with peaks in the spring and fall. This tends to prolong the cloudiness and high in the southern portion of the region. and the fire danger again increases. Winters can be extremely cold which increases fire danger. After the lesser in the north. 12. warm air masses are passes. the principal fire Great Plains region. their leaves. The winter when the lakes are relatively warm. the Great Lakes modify air front preceding it is dry. In fall. Usually. high-pressure areas that pass over them. when the gradient winds are weak. causes more high fire-danger season is in spring and fall when the hardwoods are days than any other type. or the Pacific. they will cause a trough of low pressure Ozarks and the western portions of the to hang back as the Low center moves on toward Appalachians. not in leaf and the lesser vegetation is dead. source regions in Canada and on through the Great Lakes region under the influence of a meridional 216 . In fall and interspersed with agricultural lands. with snow and rain in the winter. but the green tree canopies and green High type. Cold air masses is usually the western or northwestern portion of passing over the warmer lakes in the fall and winter the High. Summer temperatures tend to be the east. year in the southern portion. if the On a larger scale. there is sufficient rain with thunderstorm activity to The synoptic weather patterns producing high minimize lightning fire occurrence. Pacific High type. relative humidities are usually high also. the leafless trees in spring temperatures as mT air masses alternate with either expose the surface litter to considerable drying. cooled as they pass over the cooler waters of the lakes. The maximum fire danger in the Great Lakes region are usually precipitation usually falls in early summer in the those involving Highs moving into the region from north. By the time this portion of the High are warmed and pick up considerable moisture. In the The Hudson Bay High and Northwest southern portion of the region the spring season is Canadian High types involve cP air masses that somewhat earlier and the fall season somewhat move southward or southeastward from their later than in the northern portion. they topography is mostly flat to gently sloping. On principal exceptions are the Missouri and Arkansas occasion. the hardwoods drop showers and thunderstorms in the summer. Annual precipitation is moderate. Central States The Great Lakes also affect the synoptic-scale pressure pattern. found in the forward portion of the air mass. which was discussed with the As in the Great Lakes region. mP or cP air masses.Near the shores. and vegetation is killed by frost. the air mass has been warmed by resulting in heavier precipitation to the lee of the heating and subsidence. generally 20 the fire danger decreases. temperatures and brief periods of moderate In hardwood areas. In spring and early summer when The vegetation in the Central States region is the lakes are relatively cool. The in the summer to keep fires from being aggressive. reaches a locality. The amount of moisture picked up depends low and remains low until either Gulf moisture is to a large extent upon the length of the overwater brought into the system or the next cold front fetch. fog and low clouds form and drift over the leeward shores. The tend to deepen Lows that pass over them. but this is infrequent and usually occurs lesser vegetation are usually sufficiently effective during the period when the vegetation is green. and mixed pine and hardwoods. But the most critical area masses that pass over them. and the humidity becomes lakes. In spring and summer. the lesser to 45 inches. High fire danger is occasionally summer climate along the lake shores. but precipitation. These air masses are warmed by lake breezes can be expected on summer days.

and coastal plain is wider than that facing the Pacific Northwestern Canadian High types. with spring being the most critical season. the Bermuda High is the least from extensive spruce stands in the north to important of the types. fire danger in the Central States are similar to those affecting the Great Lakes region. As shown on this sea-level chart. and increases in width cause nearly all of the high fire danger in spring and fall. except that the 13. a cP air mass from the vicinity of Hudson Bay moves southward or southeastward. The forests in the North Atlantic region vary Nevertheless. Hudson Bay High. frequency and from the fact that it occurs mainly The region is bounded on the west by the crest of during the summer months when vegetation is the Appalachians and on the east by the sea. both from the standpoint of predominantly hardwoods in the southern portions. in that order. The highest fire danger is usually found on the northwest side of the High. The synoptic weather patterns producing high adjoining fire climate regions. The Hudson Bay High type can bring high fire danger to any of the regions east of the Rockies. This type is most frequent in spring and fall. North Atlantic Bermuda High type influences the southern portion of the Central States region more frequently. These types have been described above for 217 . warming and subsiding as it moves to lower latitudes. The green. The Pacific High.

The Northwest Canadian High synoptic type is least frequent in summer and most frequent in winter. For precipitation on the east side of the mountains as this reason. however. It can affect all regions east of the Rockies. and is from over the ocean. and warms by subsidence and passage over warmer land as it moves to lower latitudes. There is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and often is cool a slight maximum during the summer and a slight and foggy. and quite high in summer. a dry cP air mass from Northwest Canada moves southeastward under meridional flow aloft. to influence this region. On occasion. As shown on this sea- level chart. the cyclonic circulation around The annual precipitation is moderate to heavy. temperatures can be quite low in whiter storms which move northeastward along the coast. that fire danger is low. mP air In the first case. a Low moving along the coast brings in moist air with totals of 40 to 50 inches. The north and northwest sides are most critical. Storms moving into weather systems is from west to east. In the second case. and the mountains 218 . but high fire danger can occur on any side of the High. But because the general movement of minimum during the spring. from north to south. the descending flow on the east from the Atlantic moves sufficiently southwestward side of the mountains diminishes the precipitation. In winter the air mass is so cold. The immediate coast is fairly well distributed throughout the year. The highest fire danger is produced in spring and fall. the maritime the region from the west do not produce as much influence usually does not extend far inland.

region. and mixed conifers and hardwoods in the zonal flow aloft. when it extends fluctuating temperatures. with spring are few. front. cP air may bring very a long-wave ridge is located over the central part cold temperatures—well below freezing— of the continent and the belt of westerlies is far to throughout the Southern States. The air mass to the rear may be mP or cP. The topography along the Gulf and Atlantic is low The strong. mainly spring and fall. types affect this region less often than the regions to the north. Flash fuels. Both the showers and thunderstorms. during any month. Sum- the surface litter to drying influences of the sun and mertime precipitation is mostly in the form of strong winds during the spring months. with slightly higher amounts in the Bermuda High. Winters have moisture by the Bermuda High. and fall. The southern for erratic fire behavior. The fire season usually lasts from April The fire season in the Southern States is through October with peaks in the spring and fall. and lightning fires precipitation than summer or winter. hurricanes in some years. set the stage for high inches in the Mississippi Delta area. being wetter than fall. During the colder conifers and hardwoods are susceptible to months. The influence of the moist mT air increase with short-wave trough passages and their from the Gulf of Mexico causes abundant rainfall associated surface cold fronts on the north side of in all seasons. over the region for long periods of time. Following the typical drought pattern for this region. much fog and low stratus are formed by cumulative drying during the fall. These factors. gusty. The vegetation in the Southern States consists The Pacific High type causes more days of mainly of pines along the coastal plains. danger to the other regions east of the Rockies also Hudson Bay High. except for about 70 humidities and high temperatures. the most critical fire uplands. is the region. high temperatures prevail. inches in the southern Appalachians and over 60 plus the extended drought. Annual precipitation varies from 40 to 60 Subsidence and clear skies produce low inches over most of the region. The leafless that develop over the Southern States or the Gulf hardwoods in the areas of lesser snow cover expose of Mexico and move through the region. mostly in because the region is almost continuously under the spring. high fire danger than any other type. All of these types have been Hudson Bay High and Northwest Canadian High described above. although fires may occur Drought years are infrequent but may be severe. The airflow pattern aloft must have 14. Peaks in fire danger occur as winds mostly as rain. shifting winds with the cold and flat. Appalachians are included in this region. the passage of a cold front. the cooling of mT air as it moves northward. Southern States considerable amplitude for Highs from Canada to reach the Southern States. Pacific Highs hardwoods in bays and bottomlands along stream may reach this region with either meridional or courses. predominate in this region. near the Canadian border. This type is rather stagnant and persists Summers are warm and generally humid. Lightning accounts for only a August and September due to the presence of minor number of fires. The Bermuda High. summer. Winter precipitation is Heavy snows in the northern coniferous usually associated with frontal lifting or with Lows forests persist well into spring. Very often. The synoptic weather types associated with The four synoptic types that bring high fire high fire danger in this region are the Pacific High. Aloft.provide additional lift to increase the precipitation. Northwest Canadian High. Inland from the Atlantic Coast it merges front and dry unstable air to the rear set the stage with an intermediate Piedmont area. The cutting off of Gulf influence of an mT air mass. 219 . flammable even very weather occurs with the passage of a dry cold shortly after rain. the north. When mT air moves over westward across the Southern States to Texas. and the The Bermuda High type is second to the central portion includes the lower Mississippi Pacific High in causing high fire danger in this Valley. and falls fire danger. Spring and fall have less Wet thunderstorms are common. and bring high fire danger to the Southern States.

along with variations in In the East. by mountain the summer. becoming nearly a level central plateau has a summer fire season. lying between the two principal north-south The annual precipitation is low to moderate. The region is a high plateau convective showers and generally high humidities. the fire season is mostly in although this influence is restricted. Some fires occur during the summer fire seasons from one region to the next. months. It differs from the Southwest The maximum occurs in the summer with frequent mainly in that it is affected more directly by moist thunderstorms due to continental heating. of greater precipitation. 220 . the fire season in the western and in winter also. generally above 6. northern regions of the continent occurs in the In Mexico. Mexican Central Plateau barriers. In spite air from both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Temperatures are comparatively cool for The vegetation in the plateau region of Mex. the summers are warm with frequent at higher elevations. mountain ranges. variations in climate. while the high- one goes from north to south. Character- ico is largely brush and grass with ponderosa pine istically. we have seen that California.000 feet.15. produce differences in the and fall. the fire season peaks in the spring vegetative conditions. the latitude because of the elevation. But the fire season becomes longer as tropical and have little fire danger. the low-lying coastal areas are summertime. The winters are cool and dry. SUMMARY From this brief look at the fire climate over year-round season in the Southwest and southern the North American Continent. and mountainous area. and in the Southern States they can occur In general.

18 lapse rate related to. 3 weather and. 17. 82 classification. 82 humidity changes in. 58 aneroid. 33 Absorptivity. 128 Bound water. 3 compression in. 17. 100 defined. 20. 135 Celsius (Centigrade) temperature scale. 136 paths of movement. 62. 137 Buoyancy. 80—82 Atmosphere. (Chap. 198. 23 and fuel moisture. 69—72 secondary (See Circulation patterns) Circumpolar westerlies. 51 Atmospheric soundings. 75. 129—130 Black body. 87 Adsorption of water vapor. 2 winter. 129 British thermal unit. 33. composition. 177 California Heat Low. 80. 10. 40—41 Adiabatic process. 135 21 Aleutian Low. INDEX A composition of. 50. 82 Air masses. 52. 9. 199 thunderstorms in. 16. 117 Bermuda High. 76 Altocumulus clouds. 18 Balance of forces. 23. 82 Centrifugal force. 51 Atmospheric pressure. 55—56. 41—42 Atmospheric moisture. 128—136 weather type. 210. 131—132. 115. 18. 53—55 Balloons. 50. 17. 82—83 primary. 18. 75. 9. 3 Basic theory of general circulation. 129. 87 Circulation. 109—113 formation. land and sea. 169—171 sources of. 199 summer. 153—154 variations in. 87 layers of.5) 68-84. 186 Barometers. 185. in atmosphere. 75—78 at saturation. 182—135 solid. 80. 3. 111—112 patterns 78—83 Atlantic Ocean. 71—72 Atlantic and Gulf breezes. (Chap. 130. 2 variations in. 169 mercurial. 135 Bishop wave. 199 cellular. 25. 213—214. 25. 157—158 Chinook. 81. 81. 87 weather type. 72—73 Advection. 10 continental. for cloud seeding. 3) 33—48 Absorption of radiation. 161 reduction to sea level. 80. 43 at saturation. 69—72 Air drainage. 211 exposure. (see Highs) 200 Appalachian Mountains. 87 expansion in. 53—55 layer stability and. 185 and fire weather. 3 Absolute humidity. 26 and fire behavior. 129 and stability. 129 Bora. 219 characteristics. 72 Advection fog. 102 Anemometer. 53 modification. 7 Altostratus clouds. 17. 50. 72—73 stability affected by. 157 Changes of state. 52 maritime. 25 California Current. 6 fronts separating. 127 Breezes. 129 polar. 129 temperatures in. 131—135 in radiation. 73 Air. 12 in summer. in winter. 199- Anticyclones. 17. 51. 129 Carbon dioxide. 16. 81 tropical. general. defined. 78—80 221 . 129 C source regions. 185—188 Adiabatic chart. 50 Azores-Bermuda High. 171 B Adiabatic rate of temperature change. 53.

165 Colorado Low. 173— 175 Downslope afternoon winds. 144—163 Convection. 22. 8. 70. 192—194 Clouds with vertical development. 154 and layer stability.Cirrocumulus clouds. 157—158 D nimbostratus. 36 Drops. 159—160 topography. 75 cumulus. 155 Continental air masses. 73. 157. 36 Composition of the atmosphere. related to. 9. by evaporation. 131. 191—192 wave. 74 Cloud electricity. 74 (see Lows) low. 8. 155—163 lifting by. 31—32 and temperature increase. 153 Condensation nuclei. 72 effect on radiation. coalescence of. 155—156 turbulence. 9. 1G9—171 Dust devils. 75 frontal types. 161—163 Deflection force (see Coriolis force) Coalescence. 78 Cirrus clouds. 191 stratocumulus. 65. 122—123. 23. 72—73 Earth. 161—163 and general circulation. 219 and thunderstorms. defined. 129 Classification of air masses. 160 clouds. 100 estimating. 163 heat of. 56 and layer stability. 171 in rotating plane. 39 Compression. 100. 146 Dry-adiabatic lapse rate. by type. 146 Clouds. 17. 154. 8. 17. 135 Climate. 191 stratus. 54 cirrocumulus. 6. 8. 18. 7 Divergence. 70 formation of. 185—194 seeding. 56. 124—125. 75—76 entrainment in. defined. 129—130 Continental polar air masses. 73—74 orbit. 167. 158. 147. 155—156 Convective winds. cells) altostratus. 23 thermal. 154—163 winds. temperature effects. 155. 161—163 Coriolis force. 57 classification. 22. 11—14. 153—154 effects of. 22. 50 Conditional instability. 132—133 Classification of thunderstorms. 26 in geostrophic balance. 95. 7) 107—126 cirrus. 159—161 middle. 23 E Constant-level charts. 31—32 recognition. 12—14. 151—152 sizes in clouds. 74 Cirrostratus clouds. 38. 54 evaporation of. 6 Cold fronts. 161—162 Cumulus clouds. 138—139 Dew. 70. 151—152 variation of. 35—36 Downdraft in thunderstorms. 37. 154. 16. 57 and work. 146 Combined heat and orographic lift. 108 absorption of radiation by. 85. 152—153 Condensation trails (Contrails). 57 in vertical motion. 150 Cumulonimbus clouds. (Chap. 9. 94. level of. 191 types. 7 Doldrums. 6 Coasts. 32. 155—156 winds on. 9.8. 163 Conduction. 150—151 condensation in. 159. 51 Diurnal temperature variations. 83 Dew-point lapse rate. 161—163 high 154—157 Cyclones. defined. 106. 175—177 Contrails. 14 222 . 161—163 heights. 23—24 Conductivity. 57 àomposition. 11—16 Constant-pressure charts. 13—14 Daily range of temperature. 89 Convective currents. 69—72 altocumulus. 12—14. canopy. 64 cirrostratus. 12) 196—220 Contours. 139—140. 54—55 Dry cold fronts. 138. 159 radiation from. 159. 121—122 in clouds. 157 (See also Thunderstorms. 15 reflection from. 23 cells. 154 Condensation level. 23 Dead fuel moisture. in adiabatic process. 139. 86. 153 cumulonimbus. 17. 43. 54. 177 Continental tropical air masses. 8. 3 tables of. 25. 51. 57 Dew-point temperature. 199 defined. (Chap. 157—158 free. 154 Density. defined. heat balance of. 155 Convergence. of air related to temperature. 72 Condensation. 16. 151—152 Drizzle. 154—163 Day length. 151—152 Cooling. 155—156 contours on. defined.

4. 177 Fiber saturation. 219 in winds at surface. 100—104 from oceans. associated with weather types. 112 169 and gradient wind level. 173 and precipitation. 144. 4. 102 North Pacific Coast. 15 Interior Alaska and the Yukon. 166 of drops. 138 Fire behavior. 209 kinetic. 91—92 Factors necessary for thunderstorm formation. 139—140. 5 and clouds. 15. 175—177 Southwest. 161 of rain. 35 and fog. 139 Fire climate. 215—216 . 75. 88. radiation. 153 related to atmospheric moisture. 166. 28 in saturated case. defined. defined. 151. 138—139 and thunderstorms. 5 Fire weather. 140 tropopause near. 4 and air masses. 107 dry. 11—16 Great Plains. 78. 3 North Atlantic. 138 regions. 187—188 and precipitation. 204 Eddies. 50 ground. 53—54 high. 49 clouds and. 215 from snow surface. 123—124 air masses affected by. (Chap. 137. 70 Mexican Central Plateau. 25. 15 Earth’s atmosphere. 220 and sun. 167— effect on sea breeze. 180. 33 Frontal lifting. 100 Frontal thunderstorms. 71. 5 Fire seasons. 7 stratus and. 41 Fog. 138. 72 and fronts. 69. 185—186 Frontal waves and occlusions 141—143 First gusts in thunderstorms. 186 Freezing rain and drizzle. 144 Equinox. 88. 197 internal. 211—214 revolution. 88 Fahrenheit temperature scale. 41 Firewhirls. 14. 202—204 rotation. 56. 214—215 defined. 17. 95. 83 Forces. 159 Expansion. 19 cold. 35—36. 97—99. 21 layer. 159 Equator. advection-radiation. 4. 15 and thunderstorms. 150 and temperature. 142. 94. 204-214 Emissivity. 208—210 East winds. 6. 173 Frontal winds. 88—91. 159—161 in vertical motion. 2 and general circulation. 33 from land. 204—205 Electricity of thunderstorms. 140. 94. 5 rating. 146 classification. 93—96. 10. 94. 4. 9. 142 Central and Northwest Canada. 141—143 polar (See Polar front zone) Great Lakes. 4 215—219 forms of. 191 Fronts. 75—78 Free water. (Chap. 92 Fall wind. 14. in mountain topography. 41 Foehn wind. 62—63. 17. 137. iv temperature and. 138. 210—211 Emission of radiation. 23 Fire danger. 139. 83 Northern Rocky Mountains. 127. 141. 10 Energy. 161 Eye of hurricane. 17 upslope. balance of. 20. 144 Entrainment. 172 defined. 140 Great Basin. 41 defined. 206—208 occluded. 12) 196—220 cyclones and. 166 Evaporation. 105 South Pacific Coast. 197 slope of. 150 and fuel moisture. in adiabatic process. 136 Fuel moisture. 168. 85. 139. 11) 180—195 cooling by. 139. 129 Central States. defined. 171 and fog. 8. 208. 14. 161 wind effect on. by regions. air masses and. and atmospheric moisture. 23 Sub-Arctic and Tundra. 138 effect on wind. 217—219 Easterly waves. 77—78. 68 Equilibrium moisture content. 216—217 and fire weather. lightning. 159 and temperature reduction. 202—220 potential. 159 in downdraft. 8) 127—143 and stability. 127 transformation of. 94. effect on fronts. 100 Southern Rocky Mountains. 125. (Chap. 127. 210 and turbulence. 163 F Friction. 88—91 Southern States. 4. 138 and wind. 7 Fires.

156 and vertical motions. 6 slope. 152—153 Gulf and Atlantic breezes. 7) 85—106 defined. 95. 8. 79—80 relative. 51 Haze. 142. 37 and fire weather. 189—191 Heights on constant-pressure charts. 154—157 drying processes. 17. 199. 83 Hygrothermograph. 18 upper cold. 3. 205—206 I Great Lakes. 11—16 veering of wind at. 52 Hygrograph. 81. 75 moisture. 81—83 G Horse latitudes. 72 Hudson Bay High weather type. 7 224 . 8—11 waves on. 89. 37—38 General wind. 7 fog related to. 37 defined. 3. 28 growth. aerial and ground. 18. 4. 75 gradient wind in. 142 of sublimation. 69—72 measurement. 12 Ice crystals. 50. 17. 81 defined. 206—208 Hygroscopic particles. 45—46 Geostrophic balance. 8. 76—78 Gradient. 24 Instrument shelter. melting point of. 80—83 tracks of. 3 Hurricanes. 6. 41—42 heat transfer by. 159. 4 warm. 139 Heat sources of lift. 77 wetting processes. defined. 8 variations in. 161—162 Fuel. 88. 137 of vaporization. (Chap. 146—148 slope. 37—38. 89 Halo. 73—74 defined. 140. 6. 153 Gulf Stream. 211—214 vapor pressure over. 75—76 effects of vegetation. Heat Low. 25 Inversions of temperature. 139. 83 buoyancy related to. 215—216 Ice. 40 Great Basin. 3 Humidity. 139—141 and temperature. 48—45 Gravity. 69. 69—72 Frost. 68 variations in. 56. 94—96 Heat energy. 28 internal energy related to. 155. 165 and turbulence. 152 High. (Chap. (Chap. 50 and fire behavior. in the atmosphere. formation. 11) 180—195 Highs. Heat. 113. 43—44 Gradient flow (or wind). 91. 8 stationary. 18. 185—186 defined. capacity. 215—216 influence on climate. 48 Geographical features of North America. 49 H and lapse rate. 199 Icelandic Low. 40 and foehn winds. 22. 181 High clouds. 40 of condensation. 46 Geostrophic flow. 139 Heat transfer. 65. 186—191 High-pressure systems. 138. defined. 192—193 balance of forces in. 141 specific. 17. 125 thermal. 20. 80. 216—217 Gases. 50 local indicators of. 16. 147. 155. 75—76 effects of wind. 165 Heat transport by Highs and Lows. 77 semipermanent. 79 Funnel cloud. 94. 94. conditional (see Conditional instability) in winds at surface. 46—48 Geostrophic wind (see Wind) related to temperature. 38—40 jet stream in. 163. 153 Greenhouse effect. 5) 68—84 absolute. 82 Gusts. 7. pressure. 18. 143 Heat balance. in thunderstorms. 17. 18 released in ascent. 16. 7 Great Plains. 157. 38—40 temperature. 75 indicator sticks. 37—48 General circulation. 65—66 Hail. 198—200 effects of topography. 179 Heights of clouds. 86 effects of air masses. 75 tables. 72. 27. 57. 141 by general circulation. 141. 53 and fire behavior. 16. 7. precipitation and. 29—30 of fusion. 173 Instability. 152 Ground fog. 111—112 Ice-crystal process. 101 weather type.

50. 16. 142 225 . 63. 195 turbulence effects on. 93. 76—77 and general circulation. 74 subtropical. in ascent. 195 Lee waves. 166. 6 and 7) 85—126 Isobars. 18. 27. 78 pressure gradient and. 15. 3. 115—116. 17. 18. 148. 57. 28 Living fuel moisture. low-level. 51. 79—80 gradient wind in. 50. 91 Maritime tropical air masses. on fronts. 3. 89—90 frontal. 146—148 and temperature. 79—80 cut-off (or cold). 50 Lightning. 76—77 semipermanent. 129 Lake breezes. 4. (Chap. 27 Middle clouds. 112 orographic. 80 fronts and. 102—103 lapse rates affected by. 141—142 wind in. 43. 99—100. 11) 180—195 Latent heat. 121 speed. 53—55 stability defined by. 61—62 fires produced by. 50 Mixing. 18 Mercurial barometer. 100 Moisture equilibrium in fuels. 57 Momentum transport. 74 Jet. 4. 57 seasonal changes. 57 Moist-adiabatic lapse rate. 182-485. 64. 9. cyclonic energy released from. (Chaps. 17. 28 effect of vegetative type. 154. 93. 28. 53 Moisture content. 27. 53—55 moist-adiabatic. 89 of fuels. 56. 3 dry-adiabatic. 146—148 Mountain winds (See Valley winds) by turbulence. marine. atmospheric (see Atmospheric moisture) superadiabatic. 8 Lifting. 182—185. 18. 94 Low-pressure systems. 81—83 K waves on fronts and. 17. 72 and adiabatic rate of cooling. 34 by convergence. 5 L M Lag of seasons. 28—30. 78 autoconvective. 154. character. 28. patterns. 51. 78. 18. 141—142 temperature gradient in. 76—77. 54 Molecular activity. weather (see Weather observations) and fog. 109—113 Measurements. 79 Long waves in the westerlies. 4. 150 Mountain waves. 88—89 Lapse rate of temperature. 79 troughs. 102 thermal. 62. 73 Local winds. 88 Kinetic energy. by convection. 79—80 balance of forces. 51. 16. 18. 187—188 Level of free convection. 17. 16 Maritime air masses. 78—79 J Low clouds. 18 living. 18 Meridional pattern. 78—79 and winds. 208. 56. 18. 136 environment versus parcel. 136 mixing effects on. 192—194 of vaporization. 185—194 release. 17. 75 zonal. 75—76 meridional. 9 night (or nocturnal). 78—79 geostrophic flow and. 168. 9 and stability. 122 Mesosphere. 45. 2 average. 133—134 Laminar flow. 75—77 ridges. 80-83 tracks of. 74. 182 types. 57 of layers. 178 polar front associated with. 56 Mono wind. 50. effect of. 55—56 moisture distributed by. 94 Lows. 50. 79 defined. 78. 17. 209 surface. 53 estimating. 57. 18. by turbulence (or eddies). 54—55 Millibar. 132. 27. 78 Lulls. 112 Mechanical turbulence. 50—56 Moisture. 18. 159—161 Low-level jet. 74 Jet stream. 28. by convection. 3 turbulence affected by. 182—185 Isobaric analysis. 157—158 conditionally unstable. 73 Long wave. 55—56 Monsoon. 134 Land and sea breezes. 175—177 subsidence type. 53—55 Moist-adiabatic process. of atmosphere. 57 Mountains. 28 Light. 74 dead. 69. 4. 131—132. 113 Maritime polar air masses. 50—55 lapse rate affected by.

174 units. 32 processes. 27. 81. 6 Observations. 73 North winds. contrasted with continents. in adiabatic process. 50—55 sky. 71 Radiation fog. 10. 62—64. 9. air masses affected by. 20. 201—202 on temperature. 102—103 sea-level. 87 Polar outbreak. 161 jet stream and. 129—130 P balance. 4. surface. 94. 41—42. 165 Raindrops. 159 partial. artificial. 82 earth (see Earth radiation) weather type. 50—55 solar (see Solar radiation) Partial pressure. defined. 9. 72 cells. 5. 75—76 Gulf Stream. of water vapor. 26. 38—40. 3 and volume relationship. of water vapor. 72—73 Nimbostratus clouds. 11—16. 10 Parcel of air. 153—154 Rainfall (see Precipitation) 226 . 177 patterns. 75—78 temperatures affected by. 9. measurement. 73 Nucleation. 72 defined. 26—27 Pacific High. 133 Psychrometer. 80. 158. 199 Prevailing westerlies. 9 Polar front zone. 80—83 thunderstorm effects on. 75 Ocean currents. 199 energy transport and. 35—36 Nocturnal thunderstorms. 22 temperatures affected by. 150 Radiation. 23 Polar air masses. 131—132. 96—104. 87. 199 reduction. 75 Occluded fronts (occlusions). 150 patterns. 72—75 measurement. 112—113 carbon dioxide. 12 Pacific coast monsoon. 87 Pressure gradient. 79 Radiosonde. 152—154 on wind. 129 Polar easterlies. 71 ultraviolet. 23 temperatures. 199 mixing of surface layers. 38 Oceans. 7 upper-air. 23 environment related to. 199 winds related to. 199 geostrophic flow and. 28 Phase changes. 72 wavelength. 50—55 from snow surface. Psychrometric table. 163—165 Pressure. 95. 86. 72 upwelling. 219 emission (see Emission of radiation) Pacific ocean. 21. 87 and transparency. 177 absorption. atmospheric. 204—205 Rain gage. 112—114 types. 9 Pilot balloon observations (PIBALS). 141—143 force exerted by. 199 gradient wind and. 81 Radar. 29. 177 Orographic lifting. 74—75 semipermanent centers. 12 air masses affected by. 10 Particles in atmosphere. 3 N distribution. 20—23. 12 in atmosphere. 71. 3. 199 R influence on climate. 3 0 vertical variatlon. 71. 31. 213. ‘76—78 North Pacific Drift. 12 Parcel method. 112 cooling of atmosphere by. Precipitation. 72—75 North Pacific Drift. 163 Post-frontal offshore flow weather type. 165 Potential energy. 38—40 133—134 effects on air temperatures. 3 Northwest Canadian High weather type. 173. 96. 3 Northeast trade winds. 9—14 Ozone. 50—55 buoyancy. on precipitation. 153 systems. formation. 50—55 infrared. 8—11 Orographic thunderstorms. 148. 216—218 station. 56. absorption of radiation by. 27. 35 and temperature. 12 stability related to. 32. 148. weather. 72 Rain. 9. 10. 11 Pacific coast sea breeze. 165 and work. 7 thermal. 71 standard. 3. 10 air masses and. California. 11—14 black body. 80. 65.

11—16. 14. 43—45 neutral. 17 wind. 79 over ice particles. 20. 61 Sea-level chart. 151—152 Saturation. 73 Sleet. 36 defined. 159—160 S and fog. 16 earth and. (Chap. coriolis force and. defined. 2 energy from. 8 Satellites. 70. 9. vertical. electromagnetic. (Chap. 163 radiation from. 26 adiabatic lapse rate. Snow. 43. 25. 11 distribution. 18. 56 Sea breezes. 215—219 formation. 153 Surface weather charts. 10—16 reflection. 153 Short-wave trough weather pattern. 152 troughs. 18. 103—104 heat of. temperatures affected by. 49. 23 Solar radiation. 24 daily. 23—25 227 . 57. 3 Rotation. 17. defined. 12. 141 Stratocumulus clouds. 163 Surface weather observations. 4. 38—40. 210—212 conversion scales and formula. 73 Slope winds. 113—119 165 influence of general wind on. 15. 63. 51 Ridges of high pressure. 78—79 drops. 25—30 Source regions of air masses. 2) 19—32 and temperature. 50. 152 Short-wave. 4) 49—67 Rain shadow. 119—122 Synoptic charts. 10. 23 Synoptic weather types. 73 stability affected by. 17. 64 processes. 17—18. 75 Standard atmospheric pressure. 4 and absorption. 17 Soundings. 114—116 Synoptic observations. 137 visible. 36—37 and divergence. weather. 51 in adiabatic process. 37—38 local indicators of. (Chaps. 52—53 effect of topography. 202 determinations. lag of. 16. wind. temperature. 139 effects of forests and vegetation. 6. 20 Specific heat. 205. 79 Supersaturation.Rainmaking. 14 Spectrum. 100 latitude effect on vertical component. 5. 15 tropopause height related to. 87 air. 163 204— 214. 12 Temperature. 94 in clouds. 153—154 Supercooling of liquid water. 55—56 and fire behavior. 45—48 and vertical motions. 207 Seasons. 146 and absolute humidity. 73 Subtropical High aloft weather pattern. (Cover) Sublimation nucleii. 2 Stratus clouds. 87 and fire behavior. by regions of the country. 57 and dew-point temperature. 83. 159—161 Sublimation. 42—61 defined. ridges. 49 Reduction of station pressure to sea level. 11. 23. 23—25 Silver iodide seeding. 20—23. 73 Stationary fronts. 93. 75 Statics of atmosphere. 55—56 Relative humidity. and air thermal. plotted on diagrams. 152 Shear. 24 of layers. 109 (see also Land and sea breezes) and relative humidity. 73 and lapse rate. 92. 11—14. 50 masses. adiabatic process at (see Adiabatic process) Subsidence. 65—66 variations in. 10 discontinuity. wind. vegetation. 50—55 Reflection. 30—31 effects of surface properties. 129 air-mass. 95—96. 153 Short waves in the westerlies. 25—26 Southwesterly flow aloft weather pattern. 61 layer stability affected by. 23 T reflection from. 75 Standing waves. 50—5 5 Rawinsonde. 20—23 Seeding of clouds. 86. 22. 87. 1—4) 1—67 primary circulation modified by. 73 Smoke. 151 Santa Ana wind. 27—30 Squall lines. 11—16. 14 lag. 9 defined. 153—154 Stability. 60—65 in clouds. 159—160 Stratosphere. 146—151 lapse-rate changes. Slope and valley winds. 8. 152. 50. 56 Sea-level pressure. 153—154 pellets. 70—72 Station pressure. 17. 14—16 Sun. 208 Surface characteristics and temperatures. 21. 10 of dew point (see Dew-point temperature) and emission.

202—220 turbulence. 94. 8. 57 winds in. 188—189 adiabatic changes in. 163—165 wind effects on. 36 dry or high-level. 8 height. 17. 146—151 Tornadoes. 8. 20. 7 seasonal changes. 177—178. 188—189 and condensation 18. 20. 161 Thunderstorms. 9 radiation effects on. 133 cells. 53—55. 72 general circulation and. 164—165 Vegetation. 138. 153 electricity. 146—148. 6. 57. 50—56 228 . 94. 74 measurement. 26. 20—23 temperatures affected by. 2 inversions (see Inversions of temperature) Troposphere. 27 surface. 171 table. 79—80 air in. 11—16. 21 and fronts. 2 in jet stream. 91 pressure relationship. 88—91 ocean effects on. defined. 171—174 classification. 167 clusters of. 172—174 Vertical motion. 167—171 Valley and slope winds. (Chap. 4. 28 Types of thunderstorms. 21 Upper-air observations. 27. 30—31 pressure changes with. 104—105. 36. 129—130 variations. 100. 177 defined. 32 Thermal conductivity. 177 temperature. 154—163 volume relationship. 21—25 thermal. 50 Trade winds. 55—56 Transpiration. 31. 35 hail in. 2 Upper cold fronts. 17. 50 Timelag principle. 174—175 development of new. 29. 16. 20—23. 116—118 development. 41 temperature changes in. 137 wet-bulb. 124. 169—171 entrainment in. 20. 167 Valley winds. 17. 27. 2 internal energy and. 51. 16. 25. 65. 151. 27 Types of air masses. 26. and friction. 89—90 and topography. 7. radiation effects on. 29. composition. 16. 174—175 V stages. 167—169 effect of orientation and vegetation on. 118—119 tornadoes related to. 124—125. 22. 17. 153 energy diagrams. 72 and stability. 142. 87 Thermosphere. 4. 25. 83. defined. 173—174 over water. 31 Tropopause. 9 Thermal instability (see Instability) U Thermal lifting. defined. 7 Tropical air masses. 129 and fire behavior. 3 lapse rate (see Lapse rate of temperature) Troughs of low pressure. 119—122 conditions necessary for. 25. 18. 178—179 by regions. 173—175. 171—175 shelters. 179 expansion in. 124—125. 18. 20 Ultraviolet radiation. 88—89 11—16. 208. 36 gusts in. 10) 166-1 79 Upwelling ocean currents. 83—84. 113—119 effect of general wind on. 19 Tropical storms. 139. 26 mechanical. effects on life cycle. 199 and fire behavior. 173 winds. 88—89 solar radiation and. 34 Turbulence. 140. 20 Updrafts. 169—171 Vapor pressure. related to fuel moisture. 89—90 Thermometers. 6. 16 Thermal belt. 27—32. 178—179 and divergence. 17. 6. 200—201 Types of clouds. 143 winds. 177 Upslope fog. 18 Timelag period. 171—175 humidity. 16. 177—178 Theory of general circulation. 167. 175—177 over ice. 185—188 177—178 saturation. 32. expansion with. 209 over cloud droplets. 6 Types of fronts. 35 downdrafts in. 73—74 ventilation. 26. 2 gradient. 149 Thermal turbulence. 118—119 thermodynamics of. 173—174 Vertical cross sections of fronts. 38. 40. 39 Types of precipitation. 32 in thunderstorms. 50. 137 molecular activity and. 173—174 and turbulence. 21 Upper-air charts. 46—48 night or nocturnal. 143 Thunder. 171.

141 mountain (see Mountain waves) in upper air. 167. 78—80 Work. 79—80 waves in. 86 transport. at surface. 3 gradient. 57. 95. 139 Water phases in atmosphere. 38 Whirlwinds. 26 111 capacity in air. 9—14 in Low. 91. 145 in jet stream. circumpolar. 139—141 foehn. in gases. 36. 34 general. (Chap. 172—174 215— 219 turbulence. 75—76 in atmosphere. 96— Visibility. 120 friction effects. 122—124 Wind. thunderstorms. 171—175 downslope afternoon. 23. 91. 25. 7. 110— absorption of radiation by. 94. 95—96. 125—139 Weather satellites (Cover) surface. 88—91 Weight of the atmosphere. 173 sources of. 78 pressure gradient related to. 158 effects of mountains on. 138. 6. 107. 76 of upper waves 78—79 lulls. condensation. 125. 135 104 in troposphere. 204—214. 76—78 radiation from. 113—119 165 squalls. 91—93 Zonal pattern. 78—79 Z Wet-bulb temperature. 8. 92. 83 measurement. slope and valley. 7. 94. 62—64. 93—96. 100 W and fire behavior.S. 7 jet stream and. 87 in the westerlies. 121—122 Virga. 3 vane. 113. in thunderstorms. 6) 85—106 Water vapor. 88 Waves. 83—84 local. 36—37 effect on slope and valley winds. 87. (Chap. 11) 180—195 shear. 151—152 119—122 heat carried by. by regions of the country. Government Printing Office: 1969 0—326-399 229 . defined. 88. 78—79 convective. 3 effects of vegetation on. 72—73. 104—105 fall. in the easterlies. (Chap. 8. 38—40. 92 Weather types. 73 profiles. 7. 59. 108—109. 93. (Chaps. 57. 92—93. 62—63. 12. of radiation. 17 frontal. 40—41 in High. 90 *U. 27. 75—78 Weather charts. 26 gusts. 85. 79—80 Waterspouts. 100—104 Warming by compression. 77—78 w Warm fronts. 7) 107—126 diurnal variation. 75. 74. 8 geostrophic. 7 and 8) 85—126 Wavelength. air mass. 124—125. 89. 86 Westerlies. aloft. 86 frontal. 94 Weather observations. 21. 34—38 effect on land and sea breezes. 20. 86. 104 Weather and fuel moisture.

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