FIRE
WEATHER
AGRICULTURE HANOBOOK 360

U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service

FIRE WEATHER ...

A GUIDE FOR APPLICATION OF METEOROLOGICAL
INFORMATION TO FOREST FIRE CONTROL OPERATIONS

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

and

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

MAY 1970

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE * AGRICULTURE HANDBOOK 360

CONTENTS
Page

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

develop into increasingly intuitive. reviews. but where it was from such a large number of people that it is not necessary for clear and accurate presentation. 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. individual. and suggestions was received technical terms to a minimum. 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. Free-burning fires are literally simultaneously to keep track of its continually nourished by weather elements. when They are all members of two agencies: combined with related experience on fires. factors to fire control planning and action. can U. preceded each chapter with a paragraph or two Weather Bureau and U. components. and atmospheric motion. Forest Service. We have kept the use of material. The illustrations should help you to evaluate fire The environment is in control in wildland weather in all of its dimensions. an extremely difficult task. 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. We need to soothe and blue represents moisture . The art of the weather from many different locations. Department of on important points to look for in relating weather Agriculture. IV . rapid.S. Their help is deeply appreciated. Watch for her with understanding. miles or even a few squar e yards. we have Administration.PREFACE Weather is never static. red represents heat. and firefighting. Toward this end. and Environmental Science Services accurate applications. Growing awareness of fire weather.S. atmospheric changing character. Its interpretation is an art. for without it this publication would not have been possible. Out- guessing Mother Nature in order to win control is In the illustrations. we practical to acknowledge the contribution of each have introduced and defined the proper terms. Department of Commerce. It is always The illustrations are designed to help you "see" dynamic.

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. Sometimes it is violent. At high altitudes. with its clouds and wildland fire. 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. 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. where the earth's miles above the land. action.a basis for judgment is formed. changing nature of the atmosphere. Such is the case on the weather variations in the air layer up to 5 or 10 moon. when atmosphere becomes extremely thin. fire weather is combined with the two other factors influencing fire behavior-topography and fuel . denser atmosphere affect all of atmosphere is not static-it is constantly changing. constitute FIRE WEATHER. the interrelated changes in weather in earth and rotating with it in space. as far out as it is sun causes continual changes in each of the above known to exist. Precipitation The launcher of a space missile must know. does not exist. These variations are interdependent. we change our activities. As the Temperature weather changes.INTRODUCTION What is WEATHER? Simply defined. from The atmosphere is a gaseous mantle encasing the hour to hour. But the found in the lower. tornadoes. Familiar terms Sometimes it becomes balmy with sunny days and used to describe weather are mild temperatures. in order to make his decisions for elements. These variations. Heat from the the total height of the atmosphere. it is the state The varying moods of the ever-changing weather of the atmosphere surrounding the earth. Pressure sometimes taking advantage of it and at other times Wind speed protecting ourselves and our property from it. affecting all elements in such a manner that weather is ever changing in both time and space. When precipitation. and blizzards. us. T he action he follows that if there were no atmosphere there takes is guided by understanding and interpreting would be no weather. V . causing death and So we can say that weather is concerned with the destruction in hurricanes. it the whole of the earth's atmosphere.

fires may be affected only by the changes in a small area at or near the surface. This chapter presents basic atmospheric properties and energy considerations that are essential to understand why weather and its component elements behave as they do. 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. spread. . the region of influence may involve many square miles horizontally and several miles vertically in the atmosphere. whereas others are only subtly perceptible to our senses. 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 intensity of wildland fires. At times. and the measured values change according to basic physical processes in the atmosphere. at other times. We can see or feel some of these component elements. These changes in values of weather elements influence the ignition. But these elements are measurable.

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

smoke. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0. Above about 7. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. In addition to these gases.01 percent. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. Thus.). At sea level. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. the air is extremely rarefied.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. Of the remainder. 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. 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. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. The normal value at sea level is 29. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen.25 mb. 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.. altitude.7 pounds. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. or more in high-pressure systems. the outer limits of the atmosphere.000 feet. reading of 29.03 percent. This is the Air. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. or barometer. atmosphere averages 14.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. It has a profound effect on weather processes. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. virtually nothing. Measured at successive heights.92 inches. A pressure. compressed by all the air above it. argon comprises about 0. and other industrial pollutants. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. or 34 mb. 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. particles. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury.000 feet of altitude up to about 7. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. . The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. At atmospheric pressure. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity.000 feet. however. contains many molecules and weighs 0. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. for each 1. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances.

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

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

Either the pressure is constant and the specific heat 0. the same amount of heat the temperature rises and decreases as the applied to equal masses of different substances will temperature falls. Thus. large bodies of water can store large quantities of heat and therefore are great moderators of temperature.t. density.24. if 1 pound mospheric processes do not occur under constant of water at 70°F. and falling temperature is accompanied by an increase in density.). the specific heat of water is 1. is used in a thermometer to always flows from the substance with the higher measure temperature change. or both. dry air. The amount of transferred from one substance to another.. equal.20.49. about 0. but the temperature changes of solids. and dry soil and rock. The ratio of the heat capacity of a substance to that of water is defined as the specific heat of the substance.u.u. solids and liquids (mass per unit volume) of the gas. Heat and temperature differ in that heat can be They contract as the temperature falls. most woods have specific heats between 0. at 60°F. The change in been exchanged. The temperature of the in liquids and solids. For example. ice. they have different heat capacities. temperature cause significant changes in density With minor exceptions. has decreases as the temperatures falls. determines the direction of net heat substance. while expansion or contraction depends on the size. cause one substance to get hotter than the other. changes in mixture will then be 66 2/3°F. the exchange of heat will volume changes. for example. and the pound of gasoline will greater in gases under constant pressure than it is have increased 6 2/3°F.5. A change in temperature may change either the two are not necessarily equal. the pound of water will have volume for equal temperature changes is much decreased 3 1/3°F.u. the pressure increases as the different specific heats. 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.0-much higher than the specific heat of other common substances at atmospheric temperatures. but at any given and stops flowing when the temperatures are tempera. A unit of heat capacity used in the English system of measures is the British thermal unit (B.45 and 0. For example. the volume or pressure of the gas. the temperature has neither capability. and the kind of however. and decreases as the temperature falls. the resulting rise in temperature rises. If heat flows between two substances of If the volume of a gas is held constant. Thus. lure the volume is fixed. 0.65. In this exchange of heat. or both pressure and volume cause the temperature of the gasoline to rise twice change. amount of temperature change. when 3 1/3 B. volume temperature to the one with the lower temperature. at- of the warmer substance. If the Since different substances have different volume is held constant. One B. If the pressure remains constant. volume. is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. changes with temperature. In other words. Thus. the pressure increases as molecular structures. Rising expand when their molecular activity is increased by temperature is accompanied by a decrease in heating. and the converted to other forms of energy and can be molecular activity decreases. Temperature. temperature of the cooler substance will be different from the resulting decrease in temperature Since the atmosphere is not confined. the as much as this exchange causes the water volume increases as the temperature rises. The expansion and contraction of transfer from one substance to another. 6 . is mixed with 1 pound of gasoline.t. Thus. 0. Consequently. Heat liquid. and temperature to lower.t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

surface until it becomes colder than either the air above or the deeper soil. due to the variation in the amount of solar radiation Because of this trapping by clouds. both day and night. 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).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. It is this balance that results in the maximum temperature occurring about mid- The earth radiates energy. occur at latitudes greater than about 23° winter. and cools off when it loses heat faster earth and long wave radiation emitted by the earth. 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. clouds influence heat losses. 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. therefore. it is radiation. only rotates on its axis once every 24 hours. The earth not than on clear nights. The earth relative to the plane of the earth's orbit. At night. They are very effective in reflecting and absorbing spring. summer. and maximum at the time of the temperature However. and therefore loses afternoon instead of at the time of maximum heat. Again. because of the cooling of the earth's maximum. and the earth is actually nearer to the rays strike the earth. and decreases again to near heating than is the inclination of the earth's axis zero at sunset. the drop in received by both the Northern and Southern surface temperatures is far less on cloudy nights Hemispheres throughout the year. so near sunrise. the difference between incoming and outgoing radiation. 14 . Heating begins when the sun during the northern winter than during the sun's rays first strike the area in the morning. northern summer. radiation are much the same as during the day. 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. than it receives it. no appreciable heating. The rate at which the earth radiates there is no appreciable reflection of short-wave heat varies with the temperature. At night the losses through long wave minimum at the time of the temperature minimum. and autumn. and the minimum temperature occurring solar radiation is received (on the dark side). These seasons are and in reradiating energy from the earth's surface.

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

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

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

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. 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. we are now atmosphere is unstable. and many other weather phenomena extremely stable layer. A layer of air in Moisture in the atmosphere. and 5°F. tend to return to its original level. the rate of temperature environmental lapse rate. In such an atmosphere. the atmosphere is stable with moist-adiabatic rate. neutral. and then we will movement. 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. .000 feet indicates a neutrally stable atmosphere. per change of the parcel is less than the dry-adiabatic 1.000 feet.5°F. A change of 5. per 1. Such a layer is called an are directly related to these adiabatic responses of inversion. If the environmental lapse rate is air to lifting and sinking. such as its surroundings and would continue its vertical temperature and humidity. greater than 5. The surrounding atmosphere respect to unsaturated air.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. clouds. If the environmental lapse rate is less than between 2°F. called the water vapor. an unsaturated With the background of this chapter. This is the 5. per 1.5°F. In this case.000 feet. which the temperature increases with height is an precipitation. per 1. is then judged to be stable. This rate varies according to the exactly the same temperature as the surrounding amount of water vapor in the parcel and is usually air. consider the dynamic weather processes.5°F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

deeper layer. show that early in the morning a shallow layer of air is heated. At the surface know that the gases and substances with good the temperature may be 150°F. heat is lost to the dry-adiabatic is called a superadiabatic. heating begins at the surface. terials. heated air parcels do not rise any time. A lapse rate that exceeds At higher levels in the atmosphere. while at the shelter heat-absorbing properties. is 3. The warm air is forced upward. height (4 1/2 feet) it may be only 90°F. such as water vapor. measurements or soundings. and gradually the warmed layer becomes deeper and deeper. however. We generally find this situation when to the first few hundred feet. maximum temperature about mid-afternoon. rate. smoke.slow the surface radioactive cooling. or by subsidence in large high-pressure systems. and especially feet. warming air in a very shallow layer. therefore. the change of temperature with height varies con- siderably from day to night. are more changes in temperature with height far exceed the concentrated in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Such liquid water. per 1. and reaches its reaching its maximum depth about mid afternoon. the superadiabatic lapse rate tends to receivers on the ground. In any altitudinal range in the troposphere at over flat terrain. Under extreme conditions such a lapse rate that the temperature of the atmosphere decreases may extend to 1. We should expect. and dust. excessive heat is continually supplied to the and as air is moved down it is compressed and surface.5°F. strong decrease of temperature with height is that air superadiabatic conditions persist during times when expands and becomes cooler as it is moved up. The atmosphere is often stratified as a result of horizontal motion aloft. attached mixing. Inversions aloft. Such rates are conducive to convection and vertical measurements are made by instruments. Local winds may be quite gusty. are caused by the inflow of warm air above. They develop most readily with clear skies becomes warmer. and over surfaces with the highest The year-round average rate of temperature temperatures. as determined from many hundreds of areas. Superadiabatic lapse we measure air temperatures aloft. lapse space by radiation. 27 . but only to the level where its temperature is equal to that of the surrounding air. Another reason for the change toward the dry-adiabatic. particularly burned-out and blackened latitude. In the lowest layers of the atmosphere. We also the ground can become quite hot.000 Often under calm conditions. Each stratum may have its individual temperature structure. however. though less common than at the surface. but normally it is confined with height. On the average. dry-adiabatic lapse rate. and light winds. the dif- VERTICAL VARIATION OF AIR TEMPERATURE We have seen that the atmosphere is heated On days with strong surface heating. 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. eliminates the night inversion. Early in the morning. As mixing to balloons. Therefore. air next to from below by conduction and convection.000 feet. The warmed layer Successive plots of temperature against height an a clear day becomes gradually deeper with additional heating. the lapse rate may deviate significantly from this average. that transmit signals electrically to continues. such as dark soils and surface ma- decrease with height in the troposphere at 45° N.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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.

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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.

WATER VAPOR IN THE ATMOSPHERE

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
continuously.

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.

Evaporation
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
saturated.

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-
35

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,

362 . that is.933 2.125 20 .522 . the dew point is the same as the the temperature.166 .248 rounded off. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air. A direct relationship exists pressure.019 -20 .827 70 .585 60 . Therefore. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air.) (Inches of Hg. in percent.24.149 80 1. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. at constant times 100. absolute humidity because. increasing their flammability and the fire danger.110 . Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure. each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air. to 500. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.032 inches of mercury. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity.071 .) cubic feet) -40 0. dew point. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point. The actual vapor Table 2.081 10 . Under favorable fire weather. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1. and the pressure.597 3. three measures of atmospheric moisture. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1. Because of vapor pressure of 0.000 cubic feet. and a instead of dew point in the first column.045 .051 0 . It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. . temperature. If the air is cooled below its dew point.006 0.409 50 . temperature must be kept in mind. saturation.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some.Dew point. the weight per volume. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger.422 2. fuels. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1. and pressure is 0. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.010 . these relationships.739 1.279 40 . Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F. which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. 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. Sat.032 by 0.consider air with a temperature of 80°F.011 -30 . The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.248 . and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure. that is.017 .844 110 2. vapor pressure. and 24 percent relative humidity.754 37 . we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure. Using table 2. 100 1. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure.198 30 .362 inches of mercury.031 -10 . the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. the vapor pressure. Therefore.032 1. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.028 .

obtain the relative humidity. but those due to differences in elevation is the table for 29 inches of mercury) with the are significant. 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. From the wet. . As an example. One thermometer is used for measuring the air temperature. computed values of dew-point temperature. Entering table 4 (which important. the humidity would increase from 24 percent to 100 percent and the air would be saturated. with no other change. MEASURING HUMIDITY The most widely used device for accurately measuring atmospheric moisture near the surface is the psychrometer. 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. If the air is saturated. Dew point. suppose the air table is entered with the same two readings to temperature (dry-bulb) was 75°F. we find at the intersection that labeled with the correct pressure must be used.dew point for this vapor pressure is 40°. the other measures the temperature of evaporating water contained in a muslin wicking surrounding the thermometer bulb. and relative humidity may be Wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures are obtained with a psychrometer. The first reading is commonly referred to as the dry-bulb temperature and the second as the wet-bulb temperature. absolute humidity. At that tem- perature the actual vapor pressure would equal the saturation vapor pressure.500 feet above sea level. The wet-bulb temperature is the steady value reached during a period of brisk ventilation of the thermometer bulbs.and dry-bulb measurements. and other measures read from tables or slide rules. The ones reading at the top. relative humidity. which psychrometric tables for different pressures Other tables in common use require that the may be used. (red figure). It consists of two identical mercurial thermometers. another dry-bulb readings. The absolute humidity in table 2 could be used in a similar manner. We now know that if the air was cooled from 80°F. the relative humidity may change considerably with no addition of mois- ture-just by cooling alone. these moisture relations vary with changes in pressure. the relative humidity is 55 percent (black figure) and Table 3 gives the ranges of land elevations for the dew point is 58°F. of air moisture may be obtained from these readings. 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. the wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures are the same. Thus. 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. to 40°. types of tables. They have been considered in the dry-bulb reading on the left and the wet-bulb construction of the tables or slide rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. however. these openings serve as chimneys for convective airflow. In the afternoon. temperatures may rise slightly above those at exposed stations. 47 . As mentioned in the previous chapter. the stagnation coupled with strong radiation can cause locally high humidities. and surface air is drawn into them from the surrounding forest. drought conditions decrease the amount of moisture available for evaporation and tran- spiration. If the airflow is restricted. between forest stands and forest openings. Relative humidity is normally higher under a closed canopy than in the open during the day. Changes in absolute humidity are more important at mountain stations. Two factors lessen the humidity difference nounced when there is a green understory. and humidity during their leafless period. Night humidities are generally similar to those at exposed sites. Deciduous forests have only slight effects on Overcast skies limit both heating and cooling.Temperature and relative humidity traces at mountain stations are often less closely related ban at valley stations. The daytime humidities in larger clearings are much like those in open country. and lower at night. At night in small openings. and humidities will be correspondingly lower. higher daytime humidities are even more pro. usually somewhat higher than in the woods. these may range from 5 to 20 percent lower in the clearing than within a well-shaded forest.

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

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

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

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. Also printed on the chart is a set of dry-adiabatic and a set of moist-adiabatic lines. 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. 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. By referring to these adiabats. . The temperature structure of the atmosphere is always complex. The moisture is plotted as dew-point temperature. Assume for simplicity. adiabatic processes and stability determinations for either upward or downward moving air parcels make use of the appropriate dry. meteorologists analyzing upper-air observations use a thermodynamic diagram called an adiabatic chart as a convenient tool for making stability estimates. so is it equally compressed and warmed as it is lowered. in an unstable atmosphere. As mentioned above. it will remain at its new position. In later chapters we will consider other ways in which the adiabatic chart is used. the parcel will accelerate in the direction of its forced motion. Hence. therefore. Adiabatic Chart To facilitate making stability determinations. 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. that each of our four soundings has a lapse rate indicated dia- To determine stability. the moist-adiabatic lapse rate is variable-not constant as is the dry-adiabatic rate. The adiabatic process is reversible. 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 parcel will return to its original position when the force is removed. Just as air expands and cools when it is lifted. In a stable atmosphere.or moist-adiabatic lapse rates. We will first cons unsaturated air to which the constant dry-adiabatic lapse rate applies.

per 1. Thus.000 feet. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next. would be 43°F. arrows. Buoyancy purposes. At 1. for example.000 feet and 50°F. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F.5°F. the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines). a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment. for example. For our the environment would be only 57°F. The parcel will then be 8.000 feet... environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces.grammatically by a solid black line. but the temperature of temperature at 3. Similarly. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. If it remains unsaturated. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. inversions 39°F. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5.5°F.000 feet. 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. the parcel warms at rate of 5. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F.) to the temperature of its environment. If the parcel is lifted.. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable.000 feet to be 50°F.000 feet.000 feet. per 1. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3. colder 3. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. higher.5°F. .5°F.000 feet of altitude. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. Moved downward. its temperature will decrease 5. Note also in the environment. its temperature would be will also return to its original level.5° rate. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1.

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

temperature and 62° dew point 6. for example. it then cools at the moist-adiabatic showing a temperature lapse rate of 4. The altitude of the point is thus at the condensation The atmosphere illustrated by the above level. temperature is lower than that but it is unstable with respect to a lifted parcel that has become saturated. causes the moist-adiabatic lapse rate to increase toward the dry-adiabatic rate. the measured lapse rate of the layer is 4.000 feet. which has a lapse rate lying between the In our example.000 feet. per 1. 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. stable with respect to a lifted parcel as long as the parcel temperature follows the dry-adiabatic rate. because the temperature of the saturated parcel would follow the lesser moist-- adiabatic rate. The unstable. If the adiabatic chart. of these. This. at the rate of 1°F. The level at which the parcel becomes indicate that the parcel is initially unsaturated. starting at the requiring an external lifting force. however. is said to be conditionally feet above sea level at a temperature of 58°.5°F. because it would be unstable under chart one can read differences between tem- saturated conditions but stable under unsaturated conditions.000 dry and moist adiabats. If we draw a line on to cool at the moist-adiabatic rate. This layer is. Above this level. At start with a parcel at sea level where the temperature this rate of change. the parcel will begin free ascent. continuing meanwhile decreases.the dry-adiabatic and moist-adiabatic lines shown on shown by the sounding for the surrounding air. As the warmer than the surrounding air is called the level parcel is lifted. plotted on the accompanying chart. depending on the temperature structure of the air aloft. At the level where the parcel temperature sumptions upon which the method is founded. assume a the parcel is forced to rise above the condensation sounding. For this example. the parcel temperature will is 80°F. condensation occurs at 4. One exceeds the environment temperature. The parcel Conditional Instability temperature at this point is therefore at the dew point. The parcel dew-point temperature become buoyant and accelerate upward. is that there is no 54 . This may be in the vicinity of the tropopause or at some lower level. example. and the dew point is 62°.and moist-adiabatic rates is plotted temperature lapse rates on the adiabatic conditionally unstable.000 feet. A saturated parcel in free convection loses additional moisture by condensation as it rises.5°F.5°F. The temperature of a parcel raised from near the surface will peratures of parcels and the surrounding air. we find that this line intersects the fty-adiabatic path of the parcel. It is unstable with respect to a lifted saturated parcel.000 feet. We will rate. level. however. per 1. in this case about 2. surface 62° dew point. per 1. as we learned in chapter 3. then follow the These are based. therefore. follow the dry-adiabatic rate until saturation. Reliance on the parcel method of analyzing atmospheric stability must be tempered with considerable judgment.5°F. in this case about 2. it will cool at the dry-adiabatic rate until of free convection. reach the temperature of the surrounding air at The 80°F. In our example. plus the colder temperature aloft. on the initial as- moist-adiabatic rate. It is true that from the A lapse rate between the dry. and no longer the adiabatic chart with a slope of -1°F. the parcel will saturation occurs.

000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable. 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. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses.5°F. stable. or 4.2°F.000 feet after lifting. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. a 60. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example. are weather 5. The usual vironment. greater. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5. however.5°F.5°F. or 12.5 X 12. per 1. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. 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. the layer would be about 3. per 1.5 = method. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered.energy exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision.000 to 8. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F.5 X 11. subsidizing layer becomes more stable.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3. If the layer is initially stable. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.000 feet. 55 . If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. it is 12. Vertical motion is. However. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted.5°F.60. These are additional surrounding air.. Equally important. Similarly. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. and raise it until its base is at 17. Here again. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. however.000 feet. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate.5 / 3. but after lifting it would be 66 . If no part of the layer reaches condensation. are summarized below.000 feet. attendant energy exchange.000 feet.5°F. or 66°F. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply.

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

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

from night inversions to daytime upward throughout the night as surface superadiabatic lapse rates. . Layering aloft may be due to an air mass at about daybreak. As the at the top of an air mass promotes instability. The inflow of warmer (less currents and mixing generated in this layer extend dense) air at the bottom. Active mixing in warm seasons often layering shown in upper-wind measurements. while day progresses. particular on pages 27. produce daily changes The inversion continues to grow from the surface in stability. Convective temperature structure.000 or 5. or colder (more dense) air up to the barrier created by the inversion. After sunrise. superadiabatie layer. radiation cooling at night forms inversion layer is suppressed. stability of the air changes with above the surface by midafternoon. factors. The air within the inversion local land surfaces. Diurnal changes in surface heating and As the sun sets. We will heating. This mixing allows radia- On a typical fair-weather summer day.000 feet over bare ground in midsummer. which in different layers of the atmosphere for various deepens until it reaches its maximum development reasons. During a typical light-wind. extends the adiabatic layer to 4. maintained by intense and surface wind all acting together. and a shallow above or below another air mass with a different superadiabatic layer is formed. The surface heating and cooling.000 feet At lower levels. and heated air mixing upward creates an the surface has a stabilizing effect. amount of cloud cover. becomes increasingly stable. which eventually eliminates the lapse rate of a temperature sounding plotted on an inversion completely. stability in the lower atmosphere goes through a regular cycle. The changes in adiabatic layer. the earth and air of certain source-region characteristics moving near the surface begin to heat. the unstable superadiabatic layer the inflow of warmer air at the top or colder air at deepens. This usually occurs by mid or adiabatic chart frequently correspond closely to the late morning. and illustrated in clear skies and soon a shallow inversion is formed. discussed in chapter 2. Warming during the daytime makes it unstable. the ground cools rapidly under cooling. Vertical motion in the fair-weather period. then we will consider seasonal variations. is usually confined to the lowest few consider first the changes in stability that take place hundreds of feet.000 to during a daily cycle and the effects of various 2. Cooling at night near the surface stabilizes the layer of air next to the ground. DIURNAL AND SEASONAL VARIATIONS IN STABILITY Stability frequently varies through a wide range a stable inversion near the surface. occasionally reaching 1. that are common over temperatures fall. though mixing may well continue in the air above the inversion. 28.

On mountain slopes. and stability at night occur convective winds which we will discuss in detail in when surface winds are light or absent. reach higher temperatures and have greater Mechanical turbulence at night prevents the instability above them during the day than do formation of surface inversions. Both cool about the an inversion at the top of the mixed layer. which distribution of ground cover. Turbulence shape of topography. and the resulting changes in air stability. reaching its maximum depth just day. 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. The amount of air Strong winds diminish or eliminate diurnal heating depends on orientation. rates. can remain in strong daytime instability and. inclination. differences in circulation systems in flat and mountainous topography. above deepen until they reach their maximum depth about mid afternoon. The lower over adjacent plains. South-facing slopes tends to produce a dry-adiabatic lapse rate. thermal turbulence adds to the mechanical turbulence to produce effective mixing through a Instability resulting from superheating near the relatively deep layer. The stability at night. and on the type and associated with strong wind results in mixing. the day. great surface is the origin of many of the important instability during the day. but it may produce corresponding north slopes. to strong a layer next to the ground until it is disturbed. 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. and in part to days and more stable on clear nights. Clear skies and stability of the lower atmosphere. heated surface air. A surface superadiabatic layer and a dry-adiabatic layer before sunrise (0500). 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. Consequently. During same at night. or other good absorbers and radiators night. This inversion deepens from the surface heating during the forenoon of a typical clear summer surface upward during the night. in the that reach high daytime temperatures contribute to absence of strong winds to disperse it. the onset of daytime heating initiates upslope wind systems. dark-colored. and variations in stability near the surface. Vegetated tional cooling above the inversion to lower areas that are interspersed with openings. Thus. The ground cools rapidly after sundown and a shallow surface A night surface inversion (0700) is gradually eliminated by inversion is formed (1830). 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 . and rocky soils Over level ground. barren. temperatures in that layer only slightly during the outcrops. This is due in part to the atmosphere tends to be more unstable on clear larger area of surface contact. conversely. chapter 7.

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

would then be less than 2 percent. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high. 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. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. 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. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture. of -50° to -60°F. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent. Deep air. in adjacent low-pressure areas. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. If the subsidence Frequently. upper-air soundings. For example. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F. where troposphere and then stops.000-2. The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air. this air may broad layer.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30. and its them. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6. elevations will experience warm temperatures and sinking from even the middle troposphere to near very low humidities both day and night. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing.000-foot level.000 feet thick with a warm. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer. or even higher. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1. deep. the air beneath must flow outward. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. becomes progressively slower near the surface.02 pounds per 1. dry subsiding of moisture. Thus. drying. 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 . In lowering to the surface. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out.000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet.outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. Two features. 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. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it. Below the inversion. This subsidence inversion is moisture. or surface to the base of the dry air. Then. diverge. 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. Some sea level. We need. inversion. therefore. The temperature lapse rate from the place. air successive stages. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. the relative humidity surface.000-foot level. Often. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. or higher. saturation would represent 1. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent. is less than 0. When this happens. is commonly about 5.000 cubic feet. The temperature lapse rate in the areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic.

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

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

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

except observations with portable instruments in fixed-wing where mechanical turbulence is the obvious cause. or subsidence. We need. temperature. Stability in the lower layers is indicated by the steadiness of the surface wind. 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. is typical of unstable air. A steady At times. The heights of surface or low-level 65 . Cloud types also indicate atmospheric sta- similar measurements indicate the strength of the inversion. instability. The height at which broad general picture of the atmospheric structure rising smoke flattens out may indicate the base of a over North America. with little modification. Dust devils are always temperature and humidity measurements taken at indicators of instability near the surface. but the base of the subsidence inversion.Subsiding air above a High windward of a mountain range may be carried with the flow aloft and brought down to the leaward surface. moisture conditions in the air layer between the two levels. Gusty wind. to supplement these observations with Other visual indicators are often quite local measurements or with helpful indicators. it may be possible to take upper-air wind is indicative of stable air. 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. In areas where inversions form at night. distances from the upper-air stations. revealing. These soundings show the low-level inversion. by mountain waves. In mountainous country. 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. aircraft or helicopters. The tops of clouds in the major pressure. and moisture patterns marine layer along the Pacific coast coincide with that promote stability. therefore.

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

during evaporation.and circulation. and other troposphere influences vertical motion. 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. the surface. becomes increasingly warmer with through an inversion. distribution both horizontally and vertically. some extent its pressure. decrease of temperature with height indicates an unstable condition which promotes up and down Subsidence is the gradual lowering of a layer of currents. occurrence of dust devils. in the troposphere. moisture. and see how they are related to atmospheric with wind speed. we will consider pressure distributions more thoroughly Atmospheric stability varies with local heating. and to heat is absorbed and may increase stability. A large phenomena as indicators of stability. surface characteristics. When it begins at high levels stable condition which inhibits vertical motion. cold air advection. wind-flow distribution of temperature vertically in the characteristics. In the next chapter. A small decrease with height indicates a air over a broad area. and many 67 . which has little initial Where the temperature increases with height. If some mechanism is present by which this warm. 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. We can use type of cloud. the air. warm. the atmosphere is extremely resulting lower relative humidity as it approaches stable. During condensation in with basic physical laws and with the statics of the saturated air. dry air can reach the surface. heat is released which warms the air atmosphere-its temperature and moisture and their and may produce instability.

so an understanding of general air circulation within the troposphere is essential to a usable knowledge of wildland fire behavior. 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. and the settings in which they take place. temperature. If we are to become acquainted with these variations in fire weather. we must understand how they are brought about. Chapter 5 GENERAL CIRCULATION Local fire-weather elements-wind. moisture. The response to overall airflow applies also to local fuel conditions. 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. . and in seasonal changes in fire weather.

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

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

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

and the cold polar air penetrates to fairly low latitudes in a "polar outbreak". The equatorial region of warm and moist rising air currents is referred to as the doldrums. The polar front Near latitude 30°N. This is done with a mercurial barometer. It is a region of light surface winds. cloudiness. These are known as: Doldrums. polar front zone. cloudiness. Sometimes it plunges far oceans. the high atmospheric pressure precipitation. and the doldrum belt moves north from the Equator. Another type 72 .. heat energy is carried northward by the airflow aloft. Its position around the hemisphere is in this region is usually best developed over the extremely variable. high pressure in the polar region. if we Atmospheric pressure was introduced to us in study the distribution of pressure over the Northern chapter 1. North of here are the polar hurricanes. and little outbreaks. Instead we find pressure cells-areas with the force of gravity acting on this mass. the polar front zone is pushed southward. 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. horse latitudes. it becomes the The belt of westerlies extends from about "breeding ground" for tropical storms and 30°N. The high-pressure areas are characterized southward into middle latitudes with cold air by light variable winds. and cold air moves southward in cold outbreaks to maintain a balance of energy between equatorial and polar regions. Some of these are semi permanent cells. However. When The polar front zone is an area of storminess.mass becomes great enough. of a column of mercury. and polar easterlies. we need to pressure about latitude 30°N. is a zone of storminess. and widespread shower activity. and its position is extremely variable. some of which we have already mentioned. to about 55°N. We latitudes is the belt of trade winds-northeast trades will see later that it is tied to the circulation aloft. easterlies mentioned earlier. as precipitation. at other times it is carried far northward rainfall. easterlies. 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. trade winds. in the Northern Hemisphere and southeast trades particularly to the meandering stream of westerly in the Southern Hemisphere. balancing the weight of the atmosphere against that which remain relatively fixed. little cloudiness. winds in the upper troposphere. higher or lower pressure than the surrounding Atmospheric pressure can be measured by region. between the prevailing westerlies and polar air and high pressures known m the horse latitudes. If we are to earth in the equatorial region. and As we will see later. prevailing westerlies. This primary circulation system results in the formation of several well-defined major regional circulation patterns or wind belts. Between the doldrums and the horse with intrusions of tropical air to high latitudes. a band of high understand and predict the weather. In this simplified circulation system. it does in the summer and early fail. others are migratory. considerable cloudiness. and an area of pressure. is a region of descending zone. a band of low determine the distribution of atmospheric pressure in the polar front zone.

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

(about 30. we find certain configurations. 500 mb. The curvature of the isobars in Lows.000 feet). in a ridge. (about 18. while the topographic map depicts the height of the ground surface above sea level. (about 5. 700 mb. of the pressure surface at a number of stations are plotted on a weather map. Contours of height for 60-meter intervals are drawn through points of equal height. precipitation will result. or simply Lows for short. The only difference is that the constant pressure chart depicts the height of a pressure surface. This converging airflow produces rising motion. Areas of high pressure on a constant level chart would appear as areas of high heights on a constant-pressure chart.000 feet). anticyclonic. which results in cooling and increased relative humidity. if sufficient moisture is present. 74 .000 feet). it makes little difference whether we think of pressure distribution in terms of a constant-level or constant-pressure chart. Air around a low flows counterclockwise in the northern Hemisphere and spirals inward. When a weather map is analyzed as described patterns. These contours are strictly analogous to the contours on a topographic map. For our purpose. and 300 mb. and low-pressure areas would show up as low heights. These are called low-pressure centers or areas.troposphere are 850 Tabs. Latent energy released by the condensation adds to the energy of the circulation system. The pressure along the line is lower than the pressure on either side. A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough.000 feet). Frequently a trough delineates the boundary between two different airflows and is a common place for the development of storm centers. Lows are usually characterized by inward and rising air motion. The isobars show a cyclonic curvature at the trough line but do not form a closed circulation. or that have a lower pressure than the surrounding region. Troughs a trough is cyclonic. They are also called cyclones because the air flows around them in a cyclonic direction (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). and. The heights above sea level. usually in tens of meters. Sufficient lifting with adequate moisture will produce condensation of water vapor into clouds and may result in precipitation. The characteristics of a trough are similar to those of a Low. and a line of high pressure is referred to as a ridge. On a sea-level chart we will find areas above. (about 10.

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

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

the removal of air from High centers requires downward displacement of air. increased pressure Coriolis. we find higher wind speed because of friction produces a wind speeds in Lows because the pressure reduction in the Coriolis force. curved flow at levels high enough in the atmos- In both low. Therefore. among the pressure-gradient. high pressure on the right” is a useful rule. and the Coriolis force is directed Friction inward. 77 . very strong wind speeds near the center of Lows. and movement. 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. Since the Coriolis High will be greater than in a Low with the same force varies with the wind speed. Because the centrifugal force is added to The effect of friction on airflow is to retard the the pressure-gradient force in a High. Because of friction. For steady motion there must be a balance One other characteristic difference also exists. The resulting bal- gradients and increased air speeds may occur as anced motion is a flow directed slightly across the center is approached.to low-pressure areas. If the forces around a High are diagrammed. In spite of this. still directed weak pressure gradients near their centers.and high-pressure systems. centrifugal. therefore. But now the pressure gradient force is directed outward. with closer spacing of the the ground. that Highs have low wind speeds and the centrifugal force is. outward.three forces are in balance. exceeded as the center is approached. and of ten the isobars from high to low pressure. But when we consider airflow near pressure gradient. 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. We find. Air accumulated near the surface in low centers is forced aloft. the pressure-gradient however. air near the surface flows from high. gradients are usually much stronger. In a High. and friction forces. a reduction in the pressure gradient. friction is a force acting in a subtracted from it in a Low. The do observe. that is. the phere so that the force of friction could be speed of the wind increases with increased disregarded. of course. In a low-pressure system. We can have. the wind speed in a direction opposite to the airflow. 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. isobars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

84 . 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. cause the development of high and ready to consider smaller. Cool air moves from polar regions to low changes. 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. equatorial regions and is cooled by radiation in the polar regions. occurring over land. we are now in turn. Other "fair weather" rapidly waterspouts develop from the water upward. along with circulations. 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. when they move inland.are simply tornadoes occurring over the water. which other forces. The atmosphere is characteristic circulations around Highs and Lows heated by the sun-warmed surfaces in the and other pressure patterns. primary circulation and by large-scale atmospheric others are migratory and produce rapid weather eddies. more local wind systems low-pressure cells in the atmosphere. primary and secondary circulation. The that occur within the framework of the larger pressure gradients thus produced. which. 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. cause the development of acts as a gigantic heat engine. westerly winds aloft and of the jet stream imbedded in it.

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

as it does? Is it related to the general circulation patterns.and low-pressure areas produced by unequal At weather stations making regular weather heating and cooling of land and water masses. 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. a south wind 180°. and the secondary circulations around high. In fire 86 . with more elaborate instruments. Ordinarily only the horizontal components of direction and speed are measured and reported. observations. of the earth. move. and decay. we will consider local winds produced by local temperature differences. and this is adequate for most A wind vane indicates wind direction by pointing into the wind-the direction from which the wind blows. northeast wind from the northeast. may be modified considerably by friction or other topographic effects. In the next chapter. 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. speed. Its principal characteristics are its direction. and a which are shown on synoptic weather maps. purposes. GENERAL WINDS The atmosphere is in continuous motion. The direction can be determined the local wind-the wind that the man on the ground visually or. a related to both. Wind is air in motion relative to the earth's surface. We will call these general winds. unequal heating of the equatorial and polar regions particularly in mountainous topography. but northwest wind 315°. while in field practice turbulence is ordinarily expressed in qualitative or relative terms. Why does it persist or change be indicated on a dial or recorded on a chart. 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°. Cer- tainly all winds are produced by pressure gradients. and gustiness or turbulence. 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. In weather. They vary in speed and direction as the synoptic-scale Highs and Lows develop. and we will discuss them north wind blows from the north toward the south. a separately. it can can measure or feel. 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. and so on around the points of the compass. Thus. however. Wind direction and speed are usually measured and expressed quantitatively. under the heading of convective winds.

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

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

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

The sizes. 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. new ones form near the of rotation in virtually any plane. and motions of the eddies are determined by the size and shape of the Eddies associated with individual fixed obstructions obstacle. and tend to remain in a more-or-less stationary position the stability of the lower atmosphere. 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. . usually in spurts and gusts. Thermal turbulence caused by surface heating is a mechanism by which energy is exchanged between the surface and he flow aloft. it is usual to obstruction. mechanical and thermal turbulent flow. The distance Eddies form as air flows over and around obstacles. shapes. This mixing brings higher wind speeds from aloft down to the surface. side. and the stability of the lower atmosphere. It is the reason why surface winds at most predominantly vertical or horizontal axes. whirlwind or dust devil is a vertical eddy. If they break off and eddies may form in the atmosphere with their axes move downstream. Large. age wind speed near the surface and decreases it distinguish between those which have aloft. They vary with the size and shape of the obstacle. the speed and direction of the wind. Although in the lee of the obstruction. the speed and direction of the wind.

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

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

above lowland night inversions may occasionally be is found in a region of abrupt change in wind speed. peaks and ridges 93 . FRONTAL WINDS Low-level jets are predominantly Great Plains phenomena although they do occur in other areas. An interesting feature of the occurrence. West. 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. Stratification in the first few thousand feet is movement of pressure systems than occur in the discouraged by daytime heating and thermal mix. is characteristic of a well-mixed atmosphere. subjected to them. The probability of occurrence at night than during the East experiences more frequent and rapid day. In the West. 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. For example. in eastern portions of the continent than during the In fair weather. however. the major mountain chains tend ing. near the surface with relatively low wind speeds above. this strongly suggests a greater summer fire season of the mountainous West. Strong summer surface heating a night inversion.A wind profile without abrupt changes in wind speed or direction Wind shear occurs where wind speeds change abruptly. and encouraged by cooling from the surface at both to hinder the movement of Highs and Lows night. the higher changes. 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. They have not been studied in also diminishes the surface effects of these rough mountain topography. 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.

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

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

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. and tend to die out during late night or early morning. Squall lines produce violently turbulent winds. cold air of polar friction to the general surface airflow. the spring and summer. They usually develop quickly in the late afternoon or night. squall lines are associated with severe lightning storms in the Midwest and may have extremely violent surface winds. 40. origin and relatively cool Pacific marine air. move rapidly. The strong. behavior without the fire-quenching benefit of heavy rain. This wind behavior distinguishes a squall line from a cold front. and become extremely gusty as the squall line passes. shift to the west or northwest. 96 . or even 60 miles per hour. Squall lines are usually accompanied by thunderstorms and heavy rain. gusty winds ordinarily do not last long. They increase to 30. generally from a southerly to a westerly or northwesterly direction. and the winds soon revert to the speed and direction they had prior to the squall. 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. usually for a few minutes. Winds ahead of the squall are usually from a southerly direction.

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

there may be no marked turbulence. the least. If the to that flowing over the rim. In light to moderate winds. When a bluff faces a large. Rounded hills disturb wind flow eddies on the lee side.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. it may start to rotate the air below and form and similarly shaped canyon rims. An upslope wind may be observed at the surface on the lee side. stationary roll eddy. . 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. This often results in a downwind. Eddy currents are often associated with bluffs however. Eddies of this nature are wind is persistent. common in Large roll eddies are typical to the lee of bluffs or canyon rims.

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

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

even though it may be warm. and produces clouds and precipitation. usually stagnated high-pressure air mass restricted by mountain barriers. The Plains east of the A foehn. On the leeward side of the mountains. 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. abrupt local temperature rises are experienced. or southwestward across the Coast Then it warms at the dry-adiabatic rate and arrives Ranges in southern California. wind periods. with are common in our western mountains. 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 air mass warms first at the Cascades and the northern and central Sierra moist-adiabatic rate until its clouds are evaporated. In each case. If a low pressure center or trough is located on the opposite side of the barrier. Nevada. and cooling at the location of related Lows or troughs. Two types of foehn winds The wind often lasts for 3 days or more. Forced across the Rocky Mountain range. gradual weakening after the first day or two. 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. the air arrives as a strong. migrating Highs passing through the Great Basin. winter. air is flowing from a high- the leeward side. 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. the airflow must come from aloft. depending on the pressure pattern and on the the same air loses additional moisture and may topography. produce a well-developed foehn on the eastern slopes in that region. slopes. If this air mass is then moved eastward by a favorable pressure gradient and replaced by a warm descending foehn. 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. and speeds up to 90 miles per hour have been reported 101 . gusty. dry. low pressure in the Sacramento Valley causes In descending to the lowlands on the leeward side north winds in northern California. a Great the lesser moist adiabatic rate.in the summer months. Depending on its location. Moist Pacific air forced across the Sierra . exhibits mild foehn characteristics on the eastern sharply defined belt cutting through the lee-side air. Brief foehn of the range. Sometimes. The air above the surface high-pressure system is subsiding air and is therefore dry and potentially quite warm. Since the mountains block the flow of surface air. The second type of fusion is related to a cold. Further lifting and spring months. lasting 1 or 2 days. condensation level is reached. may result from desiccating wind. Upon descending the westward across the Oregon and Washington leeward slopes. is lost to the air mass. type. surface air is forced away by the strong pressure gradient. it is cooled dry-adiabatically until the the Western United States during the fall. the strong pressure gradient will cause air to flow across the mountains. it stops very abruptly. As the air ascends the masses frequently stagnate in the Great Basin of windward side. 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. 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.

amplitude can account for the observed periodic North and Mono winds in northern and central surfacing and lifting of foehn flow. replace it. 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. Relative humidities dropping to 5 from the mountains so that the warm foehn can percent or less and temperature changes of 30°F. If the cold air is points. to 40°F. causing short-period fluctuations in local held in place by the local pressure and circulation weather. The Chinook. Counterforces sometimes prevent this. 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. within a few minutes are common in A second mechanism is the mountain wave Chinooks. East winds in the Pacific Northwest. through Washington and Oregon A weak foehn may override cooler air on the lee side of the mountains. 102 . the foehn will override it. phenomenon. sometimes flow only part way down the strong surface winds on the lee slopes. a strong. well-developed foehn may in which the wave may be embedded. and cause the foehn to override the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. or if the cold air Two mechanisms come into play. a foehn wind on the eastern however. lower elevations. The change in wavelength and other times virtually all areas are affected. Surfacing often California develop as a High moves into the Great develops shortly after dark as cooling stabilizes the Basin. for foehn flow will follow the surface and produce example.mountains. On against the mountains and the stability of the layers the other hand. In these cases only the higher elevations are affected by the foehn flow. North winds develop if a High passes air crossing the ridge. There is lee slopes of the Cascades. 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. system. or at scattered evaporation are characteristic. 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. stays in the bottoms because of its greater density. often replaces cold cooler air and thus not be felt at the surface at continental air in Alberta and the Great Plains. At other times the foehn may Quick wintertime thawing and rapid snow reach the surface only intermittently. At mountain waves. the sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another feature of this type of sea breeze is that it is operating in an area of convergence. the Gulf of Mexico.and sea-breeze development.or sea-breeze com. At this slow and intermittent pace. the sea breeze moves forward behind a small-scale cold front. too. During periods of gentle to moderate offshore winds. perhaps 3 or 4 miles an hour. Whether or or mask out land. mixing which tends to lessen the temperature difference between the land and the sea surfaces. and the Atlantic During the fire season in the East. This is conducive to turbulent vertical motion in addition to the above-mentioned horizontal surface disturbances. there is season as temperature differences decrease. not these factors are significant locally depends on Onshore general winds almost always mask sea- the local climate breeze effects. Thus the sea-breeze component becomes weak and Gulf and Atlantic Breezes only slightly alters the general wind flow. land and sea breezes are most winds also tend to mask out the closed-cell feature pronounced in late spring and early summer. Oftentimes. however. 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. the sea breeze may develop and move inland. simple situation than the western because coastal Land and sea breezes occur along much of the topography is flat and uniform. the sea breeze may have penetrated inland only a few miles by late afternoon. and topography. fire seasons to warrant consideration as important General winds along an irregular or crooked fire-weather elements in coastal areas. Pacific coast. a small area may thus be subjected to several of these passages over a considerable time. In addition to the rapid changes in wind speed and direction associated with a cold-front passage. are more often dominated by changes in the general shifting general winds may cause periodic wind pattern than they are in the West. coastline may oppose a land or sea breeze in one Land. overshadowing the return flow aloft. reversals of these effects in nearby localities.tend to mask the true land. onshore or offshore winds strong enough to block temperature contrasts. when of the land. and on the shape and orientation of the shoreline ponent. general seaboard. This moves slowly. General In the East. This combination can create critical fire-weather situations. Against an opposing general wind. With an and they taper off toward the end of the warm onshore general wind aloft. 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. a sea breeze in one sector and not in another. 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.and sea-breeze circulations in the East sector and support it in another. Otherwise. and at times may oscillate back and forth with the varying force of the general wind. 111 . for example. Strong general winds produce mechanical and inland topography. on the other hand. and the eastern land and sea breeze represents a more may result in highly variable local wind patterns.

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

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

if that flow is moderate or strong. local pressure gradients caused by nonuniform heating of mountain slopes. Slope Winds Slope winds are local diurnal winds present on all sloping surfaces. 114 . valleys. Every local situation must be interpreted in terms of its unique qualities. process. and downslope at night because of surface cooling. Differences in air heating over mountain slopes. upcanyon. local changes in stability that aid vertical motion. Wind behavior described in this section is considered typical. or from a combination of the two. Turbulence and depth of the unstable layer increase to the crest of the slope. Here. but their depth increases from the lower portion of the slope to the upper portion. 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. 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. winds are frequently stronger here than on intervening spur ridges or uniform slopes. They flow upslope during the day as the result of surface heating. and mechanical turbulence depth and speed as more heated air is funneled along the slope. which is the main exit for the warm air. canyon bottoms. momentum of the upflowing air. but it is subject to interruption or change at virtually any time or place.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. 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. The interactions between airflow of different origins. Ravines or draws facing the sun are particularly effective chimneys because of the large area of heated surface and steeper slopes. convergence of upslope winds from Upslope winds are shallow near the base of slopes but increase in opposite slopes. They result from horizontal pressure differences. 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. upslope flow in the daytime and downflow at night. Their common denominator is upvalley. These systems combine in most instances and operate together. Upslope winds are quite shallow. the depth of the warmed layer. and adjacent plains result in several different but related wind systems. 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.

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

During the day. This temperature difference. however. A valley may have continually warmed along the slopes. on reaching the upper One reason for the more intensive heating of slopes. the air bottom. Upflowing air is by landmass beneath the slopes. differences in temperature between air in the valley Theoretically. dense air settles in the bottom of canyons and valleys. cooled along the slopes at night flows downward and the resulting pressure difference and airflow. Cool air flows outward over the valley bottom when it reaches air of its own density. 116 . both upslope and downslope and air at the same elevation over the adjacent winds may result in a cross-valley circulation. the inversion continue downward until they reach Valley Winds air of their own density. There they fan out Valley winds are diurnal winds that flow horizontally over the canyon or valley. the ridgetops by denser surface air brought in by Another reason is the fact that the mountain the upvalley winds. in the valley than over the same horizontal surface During strong daytime heating. 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. 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. the upward flowing air. This may be upvalley by day and downvalley at night. The circulation system may be completed if adjacent plains or larger valleys. area of the plain. creating an inversion which increases in depth and strength during the night hours. They are either near the top of the inversion or some the result of local pressure gradients caused by distance below the top. Cool. and may be replaced by air from over the valley reverses from day to night. cross. The rest of the volume is taken up valley circulation may be absent. Air plain or larger valley. and the warmer air is forced aloft above of the plain. 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.

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

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

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

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

and this effectively shields the Coast Ranges. but most Downslope Afternoon Winds frequently it is around noon or early afternoon. cooler the air flowing in with the general wind. The conver- fairly strong surface winds. The two flows considered. The time of the wind shift from during the evening hours. upslope to downslope on the east side may vary from late forenoon to late afternoon. daytime flow occurs frequently enough on afternoon as the mountain waves go aloft. local winds tend to be upslope and flow up daytime. however. Usually. remain aloft on the lee side of the mountains. evening hours. in the absence of an overriding general wind effect on valley wind systems than during the flow. too. warrant further discussion. and Another important exception is the action of later surface to cause strong down-slope winds on lee-side mountain waves. These effects are most pronounced when the general wind flow is parallel to the axis of the valley. inversion and the general wind influence will be Waves form in this westerly flow. it will leave the slope and cross the valley. saddles is easterly because of the stronger heating Again. and the flow through the gaps has changed to further cooling will usually establish a surface westerly. the downslope afternoon winds diminish and change 121 . up-slope winds redevelop in late slope. On other the east slopes of the Pacific Coast Ranges to days. 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. there are important exceptions that must be on the east side in the forenoon. Downslope afternoon winds are previous chapter. As was mentioned in the the east side. Ordinarily a nighttime inversion forms in the draws on both the west and east sides of the the valleys. some days. up. On An exception to the normal upcanyon. most likely because of the sea breeze or appropriate. meet in a convergence zone on the west side of the If the air being brought in by the general wind ridge. Then. In foehn wind situations this winds occur nearly every day during the warm may occur during the day or night. By midday the flow up the west slopes has flow is relatively cold and the direction is increased. the flow through gaps and downvalley wind from the general wind flow. and in deep layers of cold marine air along the Pacific coast. downslope afternoon valley wind systems. In these situations the general wind flow is dominant. particularly during the gence zone has moved eastward across the ridge. During the fore- General winds at night usually have much less noon. the farther it will descend into the valley. but after the season.front. Later during the night. General winds warm adiabatically as they descend the slopes on the windward side of a valley. The and downvalley winds from the general wind flow above. while in other areas they occur only first day of the foehn wind. 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. which first lifted to the top of the inversion. there are in-between situations where the general wind flow only partly disturbs the valley wind systems. In some areas. it is most common occasionally. If the descending air reaches a temperature equal to that of the valley A nighttime inversion in a valley effectively shields the downslope air.

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

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

or more even if the cumulus does not develop into a thunderstorm. Firewhirls have also been observed in eddies produced as the wind blows across the ridge relatively flat terrain. 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. which remains saturated by ground as a strong downdraft. In level terrain this the evaporation of raindrops. Air streams of unequal whirl. the air feeding into the cloud base is drawn both from heated air near the surface and from air surrounding the updraft. is ordinarily warmed becomes a surface wind guided by the direction of at the moist-adiabatic rate. sometimes 30 m. 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. Ordinarily. These winds are (1) the updrafts predom- inating in and beneath growing cumulus clouds. If this air downdraft tends to continue its downward path 124 . entrainment of surrounding cooler air and the In mountainous terrain the thunderstorm presence of cold raindrops or ice crystals. With continued drift. (2) downdrafts in the later stages of full thunderstorm development.p.h. For that reason they will be described here. even though we will consider them again when we look into the stages of thunderstorm development in chapter 10. Mechanical heated air. A cell that forms over a peak or ridge. The wind may add to the instability by has been reached by a portion of the fire. 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. may actually increase the speed of upslope winds that initiated the cloud formation. it may cascade to the Downward-flowing 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. 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. formation If a cumulus cloud develops into a mature thunderstorm. and (3) the cold air outflow which sometimes develops squall characteristics. 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. The indraft to the cloud base may not be felt very far below or away from the cloud cell. than the surrounding air. however. There are always strong updrafts within growing cumulus clouds. But air being dragged the general wind and favorable airflow channels. 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.which serve as triggering mechanisms to start the heated air on the lee side.

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

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

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

AIR MASSES AND FRONTS

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.

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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.

FORMATION AND MODIFICATION OF AIR MASSES

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

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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)

AIR-MASS WEATHER

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

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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.

131

Nevertheless. outflow from the Great Basin High may give rise to strong. The when rapidly forced aloft by the mountains. but Pacific mT seldom enters the continent. dry foehn winds in a number of the Continental Polar-Summer surrounding States. Low stratus clouds and fog are produced. Those entering the west coast farther south ore more moist and produce much rain and snow. cooling and frequently in Although mP air forms over the North At- lantic Ocean. it is usually brought in with a low- mountains. More will be time they spend in the source region. 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. They are warm. 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. have a high moisture content.Winter Most of the maritime tropical air masses affecting temperate North America originate over the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea. mountains. the conditional instability is released and large cumulus clouds. pressure system in Northern Mexico or California. 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. 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. 132 . particularly in the When it does. If mT air is lifted over a cP air mass. and a conditionally unstable lapse rate. the trajectory of Atlantic mP air is limited to the northeastern seaboard. but showers may occur in the mT air. as well as the North Pacific. Maritime Tropical . 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. or if it moves northeastward and is lifted on the western slopes of the Appalachians. mP air is trapped In summer. stratus clouds usually occur at night and dissipate during the day as this air mass invades the Mississippi Valley and the Great Plains. 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. At times during the winter. heavy showers. 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. where the Pacific mT air can cause heavy rainfall States in association with a Great Basin High. and frequent thunderstorms result. Maritime tropical air seldom reaches as far as the Canadian border or the New England States at the surface in winter. In moving inland during the winter. it occasionally causes heavy rain or snow in these areas. Those entering the continent said about this process in the section on fronts.

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

particularly. numerous showers. if sufficient moisture is present. widespread clouds. and oppressive humidity of those tropical source occasionally extending as far as northern Idaho. mT air brought in at intermediate levels by easterly and invades central and eastern North America very southeasterly flow. Heating and lifting by frequently. This moist air is usually warmer. regions. mP or cP air. 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. In summer. bringing with it the typical heat northward along the Sierra-Cascade range. When mT air is lifted. there may be sufficient cooling of the earth’s On rare occasions. and Southern Canada.Stratus clouds and fog along the Pacific coast are characteristic of Maritime tropical air moving onto the continent is conditionally mP air in summer. during the afternoon and evening. 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. western Montana. This is dissipated in the early morning by derstorm activity. Daytime heating and orographic lifting produce showers clouds in the Sierras and showers or thunderstorms in the Rockies and thunderstorms in this warm. Usually this is residual mT air surface heating. from a dying tropical storm. except that tropical Pacific. sometimes penetrating as far north as mountains set off thunderstorms as the air spreads Southern Canada. At night. 134 . humid air mass. slightly from the Gulf of Mexico. Heating and lifting of the air are likely to produce unstable. most of it is associated with mT air it is conditionally unstable to higher levels. eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. and intense thunderstorms are produced. Maritime polar air formed over the colder waters of the North Atlantic in summer oc. and more moist. 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. 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.

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

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

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

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

shifting. trailing ends of cold fronts cause and pressure usually revert to conditions similar to serious fire weather wherever they occur. that dry. problem in the Southeast. the temperature. but they are a major lived but extremely critical fire-weather condition. After the passage of the squall line. This scattered along the squall line so that some areas offshore direction means that the air flows from experience strong. This Therefore. the weather is mare severe and occupies a narrower band. 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. gusty. wind. scattered showers and thunderstorms form just ahead of the cold front. The weather usually clears rapidly behind a fast. gusty winds and area ahead of the front. having slopes ranging may become quite unstable because of surface from 1/100 to 1/300. The strong. the winds behind such cold fronts Occasionally. the showers and thunderstorms are are. turbulent surface winds following the frontal The warm air mass ahead of the first cold front passage. The warm air is overtaking Southern Canada or the Northern States may be and replacing the cold air. the second cold-front passage may be is called a squall line. characteristics. Along those present before the squall line approached. If the warm air is moist and conditionally unstable. but the air Under some conditions. as in this case. gusty winds of Dry cold fronts often cause very severe fire the cold-front passage combine with the dry foehn weather in many sections. Dry cold-front passages wind to the rear of the front to produce a short- may occur in any region. The dry. second of two cold fronts passing through the moving cold front. the Pacific coast. ahead of. at times. Warm fronts addition. the polar air mass following the cold front are flatter than cold fronts. may be moist and produce precipitation. but at the same time very dry as it passes through the Southeast. The there is sufficient moisture in the warm air. 139 . heating by the time it reaches the Southeast. providing. The weather associated with dry and will be the more serious from the fire- squall lines is often more severe than that control standpoint. gusty winds without any high elevations to low elevations and has foehn precipitation. a cold front The leading edge of an advancing warm air mass associated with a Low passing eastward across is called a warm front. of course. cloudiness and precipitation extend over a broad The combination of strong. With rapidly moving cold fronts. Thus. Cold fronts tend to be drier farther away from the low-pressure center Warm Fronts with which they are associated. a cold front. unstable air creates serious fire weather. and roughly parallel to. In sliding up over the wedge of cold air. with colder temperatures and Southeast in rapid succession also tends to be dry. associated with the subsequent cold front. Because of this flatness. from a northeasterly direction.

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

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

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

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

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

The total amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is very large. 1 inch of rain is equivalent to nearly 8 billion tons of water. 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. 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. Some clouds are pretty. For each ton of water that condenses. One inch of rainfall over an acre weighs about 113 tons. 145 . and what kinds of precipitation certain types of clouds produce. others are dull. All of this water comes from condensation of vapor in the atmosphere.t. almost 2 million B. 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.u. Those that indicate instability may serve as a warning to the fire-control man. Over an area the size of Oregon. 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. and some are foreboding.’s of latent heat is released to the atmosphere. CLOUDS AND PRECIPITATION Clouds consist of minute water droplets. We will see how clouds are classified and named. But we need to look beyond these aesthetic qualities. or a mixture of the two in sufficient quantities to make the mass discernible. ice crystals. Clouds are visible evidence of atmospheric moisture and atmospheric motion.

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

This showers.. 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. Lifting may be thermal. orographic.000 feet. Continued rising would produce form. by thermal convection in the warm seasons.5. suppose we begin with heated Rainfall associated with thermal lifting is likely to air at the surface having a temperature of 84°F. would have been reached as the humidity would be saturation will be reached and cumulus clouds will 100 percent.. usually in the Thermal lifting is most pronounced in the summer months. gives the approximate height of the cloud base in continued heating develops cumuli-form clouds thousands of feet. As an example. or frontal. and a relative humidity of 54 surfaces. In flat country. The most important method of cooling air to saturation is adiabatic cooling because of lifting. If the locally heated air would all have decreased to 62°F. If the air rose to an altitude of 4.. Saturation contains enough moisture and rises far enough. dew-point the greatest convective activity is over the hottest temperature of 66° F. and dew-point temperatures 4. per thousand feet. wet-bulb. depending on stability. be scattered in geographic extent. In fact. it is greatest over percent. 147 . the highest peaks and ridges. More frequently. wet-bulb temperature of 71°F. and dew point approach each other at the rate of the dry-bulb. base of cumulus clouds formed.5°F. that result in heavier showers and thunderstorms. a common method of estimating the condensation and visible clouds. In mountain country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top.—Or rain may begin as snowflakes formed by the ice crystal clouds or in mixed clouds. which then fall to the freezing layer of air. Bottom. 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. 164 . by the coalescence process in warm clouds. formed refreezing of partly melted snowflakes as they fall through a below.— Sleet is formed by the freezing of liquid raindrops or the Top—Rain arriving at the ground may begin as liquid drops. ground through warm air.— Snow consists of crystals of ice formed in pure ice Bottom. subsequently melt as they fall through warm air.

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

.

These so- called “dry” thunderstorms occur mainly in the mountainous West. producing strong. The second is the thunderstorm downdraft which spreads out upon nearing the ground. Chapter 10 THUNDERSTORMS Two characteristics of thunderstorms make them an important element in fire weather. and then suddenly become major conflagrations. On the beneficial side. and lessens the risk that lightning strikes will start fires. heavy precipitation from “wet” thunderstorms moistens fuels. Several hundred wildfires can be started by lightning during one day on a single forest or district. The first is the fire-starting potential caused by lightning strikes from cloud-to-ground. But the problem is most serious where thunderstorms produce little or no precipitation that reaches the ground. such fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Western United States and Canada during a few days. In dry periods. overwhelming all possible fire control efforts. Wildland fires may be started by lightning most anywhere on the North American Continent where thunderstorms occur. decreases the activity of going fires. and gusty winds for a short time. shifting. 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. 166 .

THUNDERSTORMS

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.

CONDITIONS NECESSARY FOR THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT

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.

167

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.

168

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.

THERMODYNAMICS OF THUNDERSTORM 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

169

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.

170

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

WEATHER AND FUEL MOISTURE

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
involved.

WEATHER AND FUEL MOISTURE
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

182

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-

182

When vegetation is subjected to leaf forests is not very flammable. Evergreen foliage is then mostly tough and leathery. current year’s growth mark the period of maximum Similarly. decline until dormancy sets in. produce seed. Thus. for example. stronger root however. and moisture. The forest canopy while others may remain alive. At best. slower rate and longer period of curing. except in All living wildland vegetation responds to the period of rapid spring growth. Among the weather. and then grasses on the open winters. 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 twigs. some stems and blades cure and die content of these dead materials. fire of sufficient intensity burning in associated the live foliage of most deciduous American broad. however. The surface fuels are relatively weather. During the process of production and decline. because of the weather. The principal differences in moisture shades the dead litter on the ground. and by at the beginning of the season. In regions that have marked two quite different situations: first a deciduous growing seasons limited by hot. all deciduous reach a highly flammable stage while broadleaf species contribute each year’s total foliage pro. 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. Thus. The reduced content result from a later maturing date and a solar radiation helps maintain temperature. too. A general estimate can be made by a begin to cure or dry. may add good and poor growing seasons as determined by significantly to the total fire heat output. 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. among species in the rates of output of combustible volatiles. dead fuels. but dieback affects only leaves and stems down to the The foliage of broadleaf forests in full leaf root crowns. annuals have a limited obtaining inplace measurements of live-foliage growth season. But deficient surface moisture close eye examination of the foliage. marked differences appear fires in these types rare. 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. may shorten the growth period. Often. a range. At the end of the curing period. ground fires in a deciduous forest Any living vegetation can be consumed by in full leaf are rarely a serious threat. although more or also reduces wind speeds near the ground—another less dormant. Green grass is not flammable. In addition. the curing time moisture content. such mixtures will burn in dry favorable factor. making crown heating. the perennial grasses have. unexposed to the elements until the forest is defoliated. Among the evergreens. Perennial grasses have deeper. dry seasons or cold broadleaf forest. dry weather. temperature changes. but annual range grasses are much these latter species particularly. Living foliage of other species. fully exposed Deciduous Species to the high temperatures of solar radiation and to the full force of the wind. grass will burn on a good burning day. Light green succulent leaves of the hot. After its there is greater tendency toward a mixture with moisture content has dropped to 30 or 40 percent dead foliage. branches. however. annual grasses are dead fuels. growth and curing cycle similar to annuals. Let us compare. humidity relationships favoring high moisture humid areas. Darkening and hardening of these may vary from 3 weeks to 2 months after leaves mark the beginning of steady moisture noticeable yellowing. They mature. or its depletion by touching it. 184 . annual grasses may In contrast to the evergreens. In warm.green foliage volume. duction to the surface dead fuel accumulation. These grasses flammability. foliage is still in prime growth. during the curing stage.

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

which we will call the de- creasing-rate period. moisture content level. Wind breaks up long enough in the absence of liquid water to this thin layer and blows it away. The period ends these vapor pressures is unity at that level and decreases as moisture content decreases. The second is an intermediate step. This surrounding vapor pressure. with different drying mechanisms dominant in each. 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. evaporation rate and dissipates only by relatively saturation point. there is a decreasing saturated fuel surface area and an At moisture contents below the fiber-saturation level. Below the rate period is somewhat simpler than those of the saturation level. 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. It ends at the critical moisture content. The first step is called the constant-rate period. 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. Then free water can pass The process of moisture loss in the constant- through the cell walls by osmosis. The moisture content of dead fuels thoroughly wetted with free water within and on the surface decreases in three steps in a drying atmosphere. 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. The rate here is independent of both the actual moisture content and the hygroscopic nature of the fuel. When there is evapo- Dead fuels will extract water vapor from the ration from a water surface in calm air. During this period. the condition in which the total fuel surface is no longer at or above fiber saturation. thereby speeding permit the necessary internal vapor transfer. this may continue up to the fiber. Full fiber saturation rarely persists slow molecular diffusion in the air. fuel moisture can be raised to the orderly decreasing perhaps 300 percent by contact with liquid water. The ratio of slower removal of bound water. percent in a saturated atmosphere through adsorption of water vapor. The reverse process of fuel drying is accomplished only by evaporation to the atmosphere. 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. and at a pressure. The intermediate decreasing-rate period may best be described as a transition step in which there is a variable change in moisture loss rate. when all the fuel surface reaches the fiber- saturation level. But it does affect the time required to reach that point. In a saturated saturation near the water surface decreases the atmosphere. and to a maximum fiber saturation of around 30 185 . up the evaporation process. the vapor increasing proportion of moisture loss through the pressure of bound water is less than that of free water. In this manner. moisture is evaporated from cell succeeding steps. much of the moisture rate generally proportional to the outward vapor- transfer within fuels is in the vapor phase and pressure gradient. walls become saturated.

progressively below fiber saturation. The effect may never be eliminated. declining bound-water vapor pressure. The external vapor equilibrium point from above. At this value. approaches a constant value. increase its temperature and correspondingly its This point almost. bound-water vapor pressure. vapor pressure gradually declines. and the vapor- pressure gradient is gradually reduced. This is the range Variations in the rate of drying during the covered by the falling-rate period of drying. moisture to that value. 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. including a variety of forest fuels. rate. The the atmosphere. moist environment reaches equilibrium at a lower content values. but at low moisture levels Equilibrium moisture content has been de- it has little practical significance. 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. the effect of wind speed on drying peratures and pressures to eliminate these small gradually decreases at moisture levels gradients. This environment. 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. 2 percent and fiber saturation. For this reason also. leaving it there until the moisture content Moisture equilibrium has meaningful ap. 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. Under these conditions. 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. It vapor pressure in the surrounding air. sometimes augmenting and without further moisture exchange. The usual procedure is to place the material in an Concept of Moisture Equilibrium environment of constant temperature and humidity. 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. The process is then plication to forest-fuel moisture only in the range repeated over the common of moisture-content values between about 187 . As moisture removal progresses vapor pressure of the bound water in fuel depends below the fiber-saturation point. a vapor pressure gradient is value than a moist fuel approaching the same established within the fuel. exists in nature. Either of Assuming that the fuel and the atmosphere are two conditions must prevail to assure continued at the same temperature. there is no net exchange. termined in the laboratory for numerous hygro- scopic materials. vapor exchange between fuel and air as is the case in the falling-rate period.rate characteristic of the falling-rate period. At low lesser and lesser tendency for thin layers of higher vapor-pressure gradients involving bound water. and a state of only to drying and is not reversible in the sense of equilibrium exists. For this there is not sufficient energy at normal tem- reason. This is sometimes opposing each other. The amount. pressure needed to maintain this gradient must reduction of humidity to zero does not reduce fuel therefore be quite low. demonstrated by the fact that a dry fuel in a more As drying progresses toward lower moisture. 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. This results in a water and atmospheric vapor exchange. 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. If there is no is separated for our purposes because it applies gradient. the bound-water upon the fuel temperature and moisture content. vapor pressure to form at the fuel surface. but not quite. Both processes Small vapor-pressure differences can and do exist operate in nature.

The symbol. or about 14. defined as constant 80°F. This size and other factors of fuels. or equilibrium. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response.6 percent.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0. To it. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. 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. this difference would be reduced value.8 percent. 2. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels.2 percent.5 percent. for example. and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature. According to this principle. 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. reduced to about 8. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change.5. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal.63 x 22. by itself. 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. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap. Similarly. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation. but with other to as the timelag period.2. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. This relationship indicates that 13. percent relative humidity.5 percent. Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents. e. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. and so on. logarithms. that when actual difference is 22. common to a variety of natural phenomena. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels. The This means.7183. however. Under standard conditions. 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. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

then the bound water held to the cell walls fuel factors such as surface to volume ratio. air and surface one region to another over the North American temperatures. 195 . 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. as well as by Continent. the moisture content of forest fuels. The compactness. In the final These moisture contents are influenced by chapter. we will learn how fire weather varies from precipitation. and cloudiness. wind. air moisture. evaporates and is absorbed by the atmosphere. and arrangement.

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

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

from southern Lower California to sub-regional characteristics that are also important southern Alaska.000 feet in elevation. Glaciers are common along the Canadian Cap. These two Rocky Mountains and northern Sierra Madre is chains are the Appalachian Mountains in the known as the Cordilleran Highlands. Fraser River in southern British Columbia. How both types combine to Canada and the United States. 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 . The Sierra Madre mountains lie on the far western side of the Occidental plays a similar role in Northern Mexico. Because of both topographic and coastal ranges extending. masses over much of the land area. all of the Plateau. 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. the broad Mississippi Valley system West have additional influences on climate. Furthermore. The and the adjoining Great Plains—which slope Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico. beginning in the north portion of southern particularly noteworthy that there is no such barrier California. 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. therefore. The mountains extend from the quarter of North America is covered by significant Arctic Ocean west of the Mackenzie River to mountain topography. continent except two mountain chains along the The vast intermountain region west of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico seaboards. 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. It is Range. separating water that flows to mass. the Pacific from that flowing to all other It is particularly important that only about a surrounding waters. 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. is upland The entire west coast is rimmed by a series of country. with only infrequent latitudinal differences. It is also important that. where it becomes the Mexican interior Alaska and adjoining Canada. it becomes the mainland western topographic barrier on the continent that has a coast range of Mexico. A narrow coastal plain separates to the climatology of the region as a whole. there are some interruptions. and diminishes in width farther south. increasing in number north. all of Canada Columbia. From a United States and the Sierra Madre Oriental in narrow beginning in northern British Columbia. It is somewhat both its north-south and east-west dimensions higher than the Coast Range. In major mountain systems have a north-south the United States a large part is called the Great orientation. From there northward. however. shielded from direct Pacific influence by the East of the Rocky Mountains. moraines. coastline from Mexico to southern British East of the Rocky Mountains. is a secondary range largely Southern Canada to Texas. all the northern New Mexico. This glaciated region extends into. Basin. it Mexico. and Two disconnected interior ranges in the Far connects with. The Sierra-Cascade significant influence on general air circulation. east of the upward to the foot of the Rocky Mountains from Gulf of California. South of the tip of Appalachian Mountains represent the only Lower California. We will the mountains from the sea over most of this note them in some detail later in this chapter. covered mostly by glacial till and numerous ward. including several permits the full development of continental air peaks in excess of 14. the mountains of Lower California. 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. The region. as its name implies. parallels the Coast Range up to the between the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.

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

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

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

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

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

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

occurrence is in November. and air-mass in- wind type of the Pacific Northwest coast. Another is similar to the east. low humidities. the ground. except stability. type Mono winds along the west slopes of the The fire season usually starts in June and lasts Sierras and Coast Ranges. northern half. occasionally result in several This Great Basin High type produces the foehn- hundred local fires within a 2. and the Santa Ana through September in the north. Post-frontal offshore flow can bring high fire danger to the Pacific coast from British Columbia to southern California. 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.or 3-day period. 205 . high temperatures. but in the south winds of southern California. and there is a Several synoptic weather types produce secondary peak in March. The bulge of the Pacific High moving inland to the rear of the front produces the offshore northeasterly winds. The dashed lines are the past daily positions of the front. particularly in the mountains of the that the high is farther south in the Great Basin. A third high fire-danger high fire danger. 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. At the surface. this pattern produces very region farther north.

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

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

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

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

sage. The most critical fire weather In this pattern. and 30 to 40 inches locally at higher thunderstorms during July. chaparral. the burned acreage is small. In the first scattered storms in the snow. 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. In addition. Most rains accompanying the frequent summer of the precipitation in the winter is in the form of thunderstorms. 210 . 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. Mexico) is mostly grass. This occurs as winter rain or snow. The higher pine at lower elevations. Particularly important are the The vegetation in the Southwest (including ridge-aloft pattern which produces warm. Fires started by or July through September. found east of the Rockies. The region in which wildfire is thunderstorms. In the area between the The fire danger peaks as front and the Rockies the air flows downslope. but ordinarily thunderstorms are usually wet. while at the surface. The temperatures are moderate for the latitude because extreme southwest low-elevation portions have of the elevation influence. August. humidities are acutely low. The Southwest is characterized by an annual There are strong chinook winds with asso. the airflow aloft is usually at right occurs with a broadscale pattern aloft showing a angles to the mountain range. and July through September. 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. 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. These storms cause wildland fires. The synoptic weather types producing high fire danger are similar to those described for the 7. the pattern producing peaks in fire danger or those which cause dry chinook winds is important on the eastern slopes. thunderstorms. and frequent summer slopes. The heavier The Southwest is quite dry. 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. a problem is essentially a plateau. temperatures are very high during the daytime winter temperatures are quite low. Rainfall with produce extremely low humidities. thunderstorms accounts for the lower fire danger The fire season normally extends from June during the summer season. and September. little precipitation during the summer. and summer because of clear skies and low humidities. Southwest Great Basin region. elevations on the western slopes. dry Sonora. the chinook winds. The low-elevation areas of the 6. The fire season usually extends from June or winds are strong. reaches the ground. extremely hot and dry summers. temperatures are high. the danger are the ridge aloft and dry cold-front important synoptic patterns are those which cause passages. Southern Rocky Mountains Southwest have a large annual range and a large The vegetation in the Southern Rocky diurnal range of temperatures. The most fall on the eastern slopes of the mountains. the latter being Mountain region consists of brush and scattered larger in the summer than in the winter. weather and the patterns producing high-level and ponderosa pine. but it also includes the southern portion of the Cordilleran Highlands. Spring and early-summer above timberline. Precipitation is light but not infrequent late spring and early summer. Later in the summer. mostly as thunderstorms. Many peaks extend maximum temperatures. and fir and spruce on elevations have both lower mean and lower higher ridges and plateaus. As in the Northern Rockies. and southwesterly flow over the region. minimum of fire danger in the winter months and a ciated warm and dry conditions in the spring and secondary minimum in August. and as they are forced across the Rocky Mountains. 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 first grasses. This winter sea-level chart illustrates the synoptic type producing chinook winds along the east slope of the Rockies. and Texas. fire-starting type and appear when the fuels are areas. A High is located in the Great Basin and a front is in the Plains. Fuels are generally too light and sparse to aloft. Temperatures in the Great Plains vary dry and the fire potential is high. In the area between the front and the Rockies. during 3 November days chinook winds progressed southward from Montana and Wyoming to Colorado. moisture is brought from the Gulf frequent presence of cP air masses of Mexico in a deep layer. and the thunderstorms 211 . Then. Airflow aloft is perpendicular to the mountain range. and timber in isolated moisture brought in is usually in a shallow layer regions. The the fire danger. Vegetation in the Great Plains consists of When this pattern becomes established. The resulting thunderstorms tend to be of the create a serious fire hazard except in the timbered dry. 8. Great Plains and southeasterly flow bringing moist air from over the Gulf of Mexico to the Southwest region. producing high temperatures and acutely low humidities. cultivated lands. New Mexico. In this case. pattern favorable for thunderstorms has the subtropical High aloft to the north of the region. as the drastically from winter to summer—due to the pattern persists. strong winds blow downslope. short-wave troughs move through this pattern and produce rain which reaches the ground and reduces cause a temporary increase in wind speed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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