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

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

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

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

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

the air is extremely rarefied. for each 1. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. however. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury. 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. compressed by all the air above it. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. 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. 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.000 feet. Measured at successive heights. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen.000 feet. or more in high-pressure systems.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases.03 percent.000 feet of altitude up to about 7. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent. In addition to these gases. atmosphere averages 14. Of the remainder. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less. It has a profound effect on weather processes. Thus. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity.7 pounds. The normal value at sea level is 29. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. and other industrial pollutants.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. contains many molecules and weighs 0. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude.01 percent. altitude.). or barometer. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. A pressure. particles. reading of 29. This is the Air.000 feet. argon comprises about 0. The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury.92 inches. smoke. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0. the outer limits of the atmosphere. or 34 mb. Above about 7. At atmospheric pressure. . A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. virtually nothing. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. At sea level.25 mb.. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F.

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

Energy changes from one to another in the atmosphere. 5 . 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wind. through. Temperature directly affects the flammability of forest fuels. is one of the key factors in determining how wildland fires start and spread. and atmospheric stability). 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. 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 indirectly affects the ways fires burn.. its influence on other factors that control fire spread and rate of combustion (e. and of the air around and above them. fuel moisture. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with continued when the inversion is destroyed. ground. The transport of air from the heating and mixing. the air contact surface. temperatures within the vegetative layer for several The crowns of trees in a heavy forest form a reasons. beneath an inversion may change abruptly Finally. and this surface acts as the effective ground surface. where the principal radiation takes than air beneath the crowns. The behavior of a fire burning inversion top to lower over the middle of the valley.upslope winds begin. vegetation moderates air the ground are not greatly different. the inversion layer Is com- valley bottom up the slopes may actually cause the pletely dissipated. although temperatures radiation to penetrate to the ground than will a near dense cover. and the temperature will decrease litter. such as low brush. and with the air are lower than bare ground. because the air circulation around these surfaces is The maximum daytime temperatures and minimum better. First. second. the temperature decreases fairly rapidly with height. EFFECTS OF FORESTS ON TEMPERATURE NEAR THE GROUND In all situations. 30 . leaf surfaces exchange heat with gradually between this level and the ground. the temperatures of the tree crown surfaces in contact leaves form a nearly continuous upper surface. 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. green highest daytime temperatures are found near the foliage does not warm up as much as ground or dry crown top. place. With plants. nighttime temperatures are near the top of the Less dense vegetation will permit more solar brush or dense plant cover. This is because the the vegetation. air through a deeper. Air in the crown region had higher daytime temperatures near the tops of the crowns. in effect. 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. and third. less restricted boundary layer. it intercepts both incoming and nearly continuous cover and the canopy thus outgoing radiation and therefore has a marked becomes. The effect on ground temperature. Above the tree crowns the temperature In all vegetative cover.

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

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

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,

) cubic feet) -40 0. and a instead of dew point in the first column. absolute humidity because.017 . Therefore.019 -20 . If the air is cooled below its dew point. and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure.032 1. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air.409 50 . in percent. at constant times 100. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger. . 100 1. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. the weight per volume.) (Inches of Hg. and 24 percent relative humidity. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure.032 by 0. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure. Therefore. and the pressure.585 60 . each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air. Using table 2.597 3.248 .739 1.24. 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. the vapor pressure.071 .031 -10 . temperature. The actual vapor Table 2. Under favorable fire weather.045 .051 0 .028 .575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.754 37 . Sat.522 .000 cubic feet. It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F. saturation. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point.Dew point. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.933 2. that is.006 0. dew point.827 70 .279 40 . Because of vapor pressure of 0.198 30 .166 . we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1. to 500.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some. Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F.362 inches of mercury.422 2. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity.125 20 . which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. the dew point is the same as the the temperature. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1.032 inches of mercury.844 110 2. that is. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.149 80 1. increasing their flammability and the fire danger. these relationships.248 rounded off.362 . A direct relationship exists pressure. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1. three measures of atmospheric moisture.010 . fuels. vapor pressure. temperature must be kept in mind.081 10 .011 -30 . of the amount of moisture in a volume of air.110 . Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air.consider air with a temperature of 80°F. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity. and pressure is 0.

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

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

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

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

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

as shown on a hygrothermograph ex- posed in a shelter at a valley station or one in flat terrain. and it is often not possible to make general statements the dew point decreases at about 1°F. where it influences both fuels and fire behavior.5°F. DIURNAL AND SEASONAL CHANGES IN RELATIVE HUMIDITY At night. the effect adiabatically heated subsiding air mass above has of the decrease in absolute humidity may higher temperatures and lower humidities. Relative humidity is most important as a fire-weather factor in the layer near the ground.000 feet. relative humidity near the ground is usually lower than at shelter height daybreak. and vegetation all cause important variations in relative humidity. per 1. Because of these relationships. and the rela- ground. It often changes rapidly and in decrease with height through the lowest layers. It much of the lower troposphere. The usually increases with height over normal surfaces marine inversion along the west coast. however. per 1. particularly with clear skies. Which effect is dominant depends upon decrease upward through the temperature in- the dryness of the surface. This overbalance that of temperature decrease. and higher at night. Since hourly and daily changes of relative humidity are normally measured in a standard instrument shelter. significant amounts from one hour to the next and from place to place. temperature decreases 5.5°F. and the humidity. 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. During the day near the surface. Near the ground. because the effect of the decrease in temperature is a subsidence inversion.000 about relative humidity variations. season. 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. both the temperature and absolute A subsiding layer of air in the troposphere humidity usually decrease with height. particularly feet. tive humidity increases until saturation is reached. time of day. for example. clouds. Over a moist surface. Due to the effect of temperature. Maximum humidity generally occurs about to that at shelter height. A typical fair-weather pattern of relative humidity. Therefore. The marine air below is greater than that of the decrease in absolute has low temperatures and high humidities. the change of temperature with height Relative humidity is much more variable than usually predominates. the with temperature. and the relative humidity will absolute humidity. slope. Relative humidity is much Above the lowest layers.000 feet. the marine inversion is present. 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. elevation. Convection alone varies directly with moisture content and inversely would account for this increase. As air is lifted. at the time of during the day. the dew point and the temperature vertical variations within short distances above the become 4. The relative humidity version at the base of the subsiding layer. air moisture content. 43 . is nearly a mirror image of the temperature Schematic representation of surface relative humidity compared pattern. closer per 1. These two warms by the adiabatic process and forms a variables have opposite effects on the relative subsidence inversion. aspect. The relative humidity will humidity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines). but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable.5°F. per 1.5°F.. inversions 39°F. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. for example.000 feet to be 50°F. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next.. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. Similarly. would be 43°F. . If it remains unsaturated. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1. colder 3.000 feet. Buoyancy purposes.5° rate.000 feet.grammatically by a solid black line. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment. For our the environment would be only 57°F. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5.5°F. its temperature will decrease 5. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F.000 feet of altitude. The parcel will then be 8. At 1. Moved downward. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. its temperature would be will also return to its original level. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F. per 1. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces. arrows. If the parcel is lifted. 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.000 feet. Note also in the environment. for example.000 feet and 50°F.000 feet.000 feet. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. Thus.5°F. higher. but the temperature of temperature at 3.) to the temperature of its environment. the parcel warms at rate of 5.. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5.

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

the dry-adiabatic and moist-adiabatic lines shown on shown by the sounding for the surrounding air. because it would be unstable under chart one can read differences between tem- saturated conditions but stable under unsaturated conditions. For this example. continuing meanwhile decreases. As the warmer than the surrounding air is called the level parcel is lifted. which has a lapse rate lying between the In our example. We will rate. The rising parcel will thus eventually cool to the temperature of the surrounding air where the free convection will cease. The level at which the parcel becomes indicate that the parcel is initially unsaturated. however. per 1. we find that this line intersects the fty-adiabatic path of the parcel. This layer is. then follow the These are based. The parcel dew-point temperature become buoyant and accelerate upward.000 feet. In our example. plotted on the accompanying chart. on the initial as- moist-adiabatic rate. Reliance on the parcel method of analyzing atmospheric stability must be tempered with considerable judgment. The temperature of a parcel raised from near the surface will peratures of parcels and the surrounding air.5°F. This. it then cools at the moist-adiabatic showing a temperature lapse rate of 4. the measured lapse rate of the layer is 4.000 feet. One exceeds the environment temperature. in this case about 2. of these. it will cool at the dry-adiabatic rate until of free convection. per 1. level. the parcel will saturation occurs. It is unstable with respect to a lifted saturated parcel. plus the colder temperature aloft. The unstable. The parcel Conditional Instability temperature at this point is therefore at the dew point. is said to be conditionally feet above sea level at a temperature of 58°.000 feet.000 feet. and no longer the adiabatic chart with a slope of -1°F. surface 62° dew point. the parcel will begin free ascent. therefore. starting at the requiring an external lifting force. at the rate of 1°F. temperature and 62° dew point 6. for example. At start with a parcel at sea level where the temperature this rate of change. because the temperature of the saturated parcel would follow the lesser moist-- adiabatic rate. It is stable with respect to a lifted air atmosphere is stable at this point because the parcel parcel as long as the parcel remains unsaturated.5°F. the parcel temperature will is 80°F. At the level where the parcel temperature sumptions upon which the method is founded. causes the moist-adiabatic lapse rate to increase toward the dry-adiabatic rate.5°F. condensation occurs at 4.000 dry and moist adiabats. stable with respect to a lifted parcel as long as the parcel temperature follows the dry-adiabatic rate. If the adiabatic chart. If we draw a line on to cool at the moist-adiabatic rate. example. Above this level. reach the temperature of the surrounding air at The 80°F. in this case about 2. The altitude of the point is thus at the condensation The atmosphere illustrated by the above level. per 1.5°F. and the dew point is 62°. as we learned in chapter 3. It is true that from the A lapse rate between the dry. is that there is no 54 . A saturated parcel in free convection loses additional moisture by condensation as it rises. temperature is lower than that but it is unstable with respect to a lifted parcel that has become saturated. This may be in the vicinity of the tropopause or at some lower level. depending on the temperature structure of the air aloft. however. follow the dry-adiabatic rate until saturation.and moist-adiabatic rates is plotted temperature lapse rates on the adiabatic conditionally unstable. assume a the parcel is forced to rise above the condensation sounding.

or 66°F. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply. are summarized below. but after lifting it would be 66 . and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted..5°F. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. If the layer is initially stable. Vertical motion is.5 / 3.energy exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision.000 to 8. however.000 feet. it is 12.2°F.000 feet. are weather 5. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5. attendant energy exchange. However. If no part of the layer reaches condensation.60. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom.5°F. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.000 feet after lifting. per 1. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F. subsidizing layer becomes more stable.5°F. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures. 55 . stable. 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. Here again. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom.5°F. Similarly. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate.000 feet. a 60.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. per 1.5°F. The usual vironment. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. the layer would be about 3. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered. These are additional surrounding air.5 X 11. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses.5 X 12. Equally important. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. however. or 12. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. and raise it until its base is at 17. or 4. 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.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3. greater.5 = method. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic.000 feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are called low-pressure centers or areas. The pressure along the line is lower than the pressure on either side.000 feet). or that have a lower pressure than the surrounding region. in a ridge. while the topographic map depicts the height of the ground surface above sea level. Latent energy released by the condensation adds to the energy of the circulation system. (about 10.000 feet). which results in cooling and increased relative humidity. (about 5. A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. and low-pressure areas would show up as low heights. On a sea-level chart we will find areas above. and 300 mb. These contours are strictly analogous to the contours on a topographic map.000 feet). usually in tens of meters. For our purpose. we find certain configurations. Sufficient lifting with adequate moisture will produce condensation of water vapor into clouds and may result in precipitation. Areas of high pressure on a constant level chart would appear as areas of high heights on a constant-pressure chart. or simply Lows for short. The heights above sea level. Lows are usually characterized by inward and rising air motion. 700 mb. Contours of height for 60-meter intervals are drawn through points of equal height. it makes little difference whether we think of pressure distribution in terms of a constant-level or constant-pressure chart. (about 30. When a weather map is analyzed as described patterns. The isobars show a cyclonic curvature at the trough line but do not form a closed circulation. The characteristics of a trough are similar to those of a Low. A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. anticyclonic. This converging airflow produces rising motion.troposphere are 850 Tabs. They are also called cyclones because the air flows around them in a cyclonic direction (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). The curvature of the isobars in Lows. Frequently a trough delineates the boundary between two different airflows and is a common place for the development of storm centers. of the pressure surface at a number of stations are plotted on a weather map.000 feet). precipitation will result. The only difference is that the constant pressure chart depicts the height of a pressure surface. 74 . and a line of high pressure is referred to as a ridge. and. Troughs a trough is cyclonic. Air around a low flows counterclockwise in the northern Hemisphere and spirals inward. (about 18. if sufficient moisture is present. 500 mb.

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

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

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

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

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

and the region to the left is cold.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 mean position of the jet stream. These may be displaced from their normal positions occasionally. and the belt of westerlies in which it is embedded. the Aleutian Low in the Northern Pacific. and the development of other. its speed increases. masses. the warm and cold regions are reversed. During some summers its mean position may not be as far north as usual. TYPICAL CIRCULATION PATTERNS The circulations that we observe are the will break off and become migratory. Although the polar jet stream is the primary one. The stippling shows the regions of strongest winds that move along the jet stream. especially the combined results of the primary it secondary Lows. colder than the oceans. . during winters that are milder than normal. the continents are given names. the oceans are colder than the land. shifts south in the winter and north in the summer with the seasonal migration of the polar front. jet. As it moves southward in the winter it also moves to higher altitudes and. these semi-permanent circulations. warmer oceans are well developed. and high pressure is common over North the Pacific. on the average. less per- manent cells is also a function of seasons. is pressure in the polar front zone. Usually though. The strength of these cells varies with the Semi-permanent Centers season. is meandering. The Highs tend to be more in latitude and in the distribution of land and water persistent than the Lows. and at times portions. Some high. as shown on a constant-pressure chart in the masses is sharp. Over Southern Asia a continuous belts. other jet streams may exist high above surface fronts where the temperature contrast between air The jet stream. Above the jet stream. rather than found over the continents. and the Icelandic Low in the Northern Atlantic. In the As mentioned earlier. and this position reflects summers that are cooler than normal. Low pressure. the nonuniform character summer. The seasonal position of the jet stream is related to seasonal weather. the Azores-Bermuda High in the America. the jet stream does not move as far south as usual. the region to the right is warm as one faces downstream. During the winter. are produced by the centers will remain stationary and quite strong for uneven heating of the earth because of differences several days or weeks. which. embedded in the belt of westerlies. due to stronger heating. in turn. The semi-permanent Lows over the Atlantic. A second jet stream south of the upper troposphere. fast-flowing river of air polar front jet is referred to as the subtropical jet. A seasonal High develops Those of interest to us are the Pacific High in in Siberia. Similarly. 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 Azores-Bermuda High The average July sea-level pressure pattern. In summer the continents are warmer than the oceans. but low pressure is found over Northeastern Siberia. and the resulting air motion is slow compared to winter. A few travel northeastward through the Southern and Eastern States or along the Atlantic coast. shows the Pacific and Bermuda Highs as being strong and rather far north. pressure is generally low over the continent. and the polar front are far north. The westerlies an weak and confined to a relatively narrow band. This means that the belt of westerlies. Aloft. The intense summer heat over the dry Southwest forms a low-pressure area known as the California Heat Low. the jet stream. Let us consider the summer and winter patterns over North America and the adjacent means in more detail. In the winter the continents are colder than the oceans. and there is tendency for the denser. high pressure in the horse latitude belt is not frequently observed over the land. representing the summer months. the circumpolar vortex is small. and the intense heat in the Southwest forms the California Heat Low. However. The Pacific High and the Azores-Bermuda High are strong and rather far north as compared to their winter positions. because of the comparative warmth of the land. . Pressure gradients are weak. Temperature contrasts between equatorial and polar regions are smaller in summer than in winter. and there is a tendency for lower pressure over the continents and relatively higher pressure over the adjacent oceans. The tracks of polar Highs me similarly far north. The tracks of most surface Lows are also rather far north. stagnating air to form high-pressure 81 cells over the continents while lower pressure exists over the oceans. In the summer. The Aleutian Low is not present in the Aleutian area. often extends into the Southeastern States. these Lows usually travel eastward through Southern Canada or the Northern States. The Icelandic Low is weak. The Icelandic Low is weak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cool. local mechanical effects on wind speed. Round-topped ridges tend to disturb surface airflow the least. Less-prominent features of the landscape have similar. Sharp ridges. 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. This type of flow is particularly noticeable in the strong pressure-gradient region of a Santa Ana pattern. surface wind directions have only a small angle across the isobars. In short. If the angle of wind approach deviates from the perpendicular by some critical amount. on the other hand. such as over water. Deep gorges in mountain ranges channel surface airflow. in addition to eddies pressure. Winds of this nature are common in both coastal and inland mountain regions. though smaller scale. winds blowing over the surface are influenced by every irregularity.While warm. perhaps 30° Over rough topography. How the air behaves on crossing a ridge is influenced by ridge shape and wind speed and direction. Ridgetop winds thus tend to be somewhat stronger than winds in the free air at the same level. In light to moderate winds there is often little evidence of any marked turbulence. and most of the eddies formed are of the roll or horizontal type. and turbulence. Mountains and their associated valleys provide important channels that establish local wind direction. If the air is stable. heavy air is often either dammed or deflected by major mountain systems. strong at the surface in the absence of strong heating. Wind blowing perpendicular to the ridge line develops the least complex wind structure downwind. Some of this is evident at the surface as gusts and eddies for short distances below the ridgetop. large frictional effects may cause surface or less. Where friction is less. though much of it continues downwind aloft. in other planes. 97 . daytime convective activity in mountain areas often alters or replaces the general wind at the surface. 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. Over short distances and rough topography. In addition to these mechanical effects. direction. it will increase in speed as it crosses the ridge. Airflow is guided by the topography into the principal drainage channels. light air may be forced aloft and flow over the ranges.

This often results in a downwind. the least. common in Large roll eddies are typical to the lee of bluffs or canyon rims. Eddy currents are often associated with bluffs however. Rounded hills disturb wind flow eddies on the lee side. . In light to moderate winds.Airflow crossing a ridge is influenced by the ridge shape and by Higher wind speeds and sharp ridges cause turbulence and the wind speed and direction. there may be no marked turbulence. 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. stationary roll eddy. When a bluff faces a large. 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. Eddies of this nature are wind is persistent. If the to that flowing over the rim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the relative humidity with respect to water ice crystals in mixed clouds.166 . or carried to the cloud by convection from In chapter 3 we discussed vapor pressure and ground generators. Vapor molecules leave the water drops droplets and sublime on the ice crystals.038 119 10 . 153 . 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. pressure with respect to ice is somewhat less than which has a melting temperature of -108°F. It has been We have seen that ice crystals and cloud found that silver-iodide crystals. The saturation vapor dioxide. Silver-iodide composed of both ice crystals and supercooleci crystals can be released in the cloud by aircraft or liquid cloud droplets. There seem to be two processes which act together or separately to cause millions of cloud Artificial Nucleation droplets to grow into a raindrop.) (Inches of mercury) (Percent) 0 0.. It takes about 30 million cloud droplets of snowflakes. can be effective temperatures. solid carbon respect to liquid water. The dry ice. Even drizzle to evaporate. crystal precipitation process. saturation vapor pressure at some length. and the relative humidity with respect to ice is greater than 100 percent.063 112 20 . As expense of water droplets. then it is supersaturated with respect to ice. 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. 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.U71 . as shown in the following table: Comparative Saturation Vapor Pressures Over Water and Ice Relative Tempera. Vapor molecules move to the ice droplets seem to float in the air. a vapor- pressure gradient exists between supercooled water droplets and cloud. the ice crystals size from about 1/50 inch to 1/5 inch in diameter. clouds must be temperatures below about 20°F.104 106 30 . ice crystals grow at the crystals. and liquid cloud droplets begin purposes are suspended in the air.045 0. and the ice crystals will grow rapidly. which have a droplets can coexist in clouds with subfreezing structure similar to ice crystals. Thus. This is the ice- diameter. For the ice-crystal process of sublimation nuclei in super-cooled clouds at precipitation to take place. rockets.110 . Raindrops range in crystals and crystallize there. into the cloud from above.have a negligible rate of fall. average size to make one raindrop about 1/8 inch in they melt and become raindrops. cools that with respect to super-cooled water at the same droplets along its path to temperature temperature.164 101 If a cloud containing supercooled water droplets is saturated with respect to water. 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. but we Ice crystals can be created in a supercooled considered only saturation vapor pressure with (‘loud by dropping pellets of dry ice. If the snowflakes reach warmer levels. and for all practical below 100 percent. One is the ice- crystal process and the other is the coalescence The knowledge that frequently there is a process.Saturation vapor pressure humidity ture over Over water Over ice ice (°F.

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

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

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

157 . Sometimes they are associated with the jet stream Altocumulus are white or gray patches. They are distinguished from cirrocumulus by the larger size of the cloud elements. but may contain some ice crystals at very low temperatures.000 feet. Altocumulus are white or gray patches or rolls of solid cloud. Often they are associated with several ways. the more distinct moisture and wind direction and speed. Middle clouds are most mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. the pattern. Middle Clouds Altostratus appears as a gray or bluish layer Middle clouds have bases ranging from 6. Altocumulus are usually composed of water droplets and often are supercooled. and the sun will shine lifting. 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. sometimes develop with thunderstorms. Altocumulus clouds are usually composed of water droplets. the stronger the wind. It may be feet up to 20.500 or veil with a sort of fibrous texture. Often they are the forerunner of lifting by convergence in upper-air troughs and warm-front activity and give advance warning. Cirrus-type clouds may be produced in in other ways. activity and their use in indicating high-altitude Usually. Altocumulus may appear as irregular thunderstorms. It tends generally formed by either frontal or orographic to cover the entire sky. each individual component having a rounded They may also be produced from the anvil tops of appearance. Altocumulus and altostratus made up of supercooled water droplets or a clouds fall into this group. often supercooled. with and usually are found on the south side of the jet. but may be formed through dimly as through a frosted glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. rain. the funnel and measuring that the gage is placed at a distance of at least twice tube are removed. 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. Low bushes. Snow. or hail. and according to nuclei. and hundredths. A common successive concentrations of supercooled water. Frost forms by sublimation unstable air. hail. Several types of recording gages that make sleet. low clouds. and only the outside cylindrical the height of the object. droplets or ice crystals into rain- 165 .1 inch deep in the measuring tube. their altitude as high. MEASUREMENT OF PRECIPITATION Precipitation is measured on the basis of the obtain the liquid equivalent of the snow. provided When snow is measured.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. when the air is chilled to its dew point and the dew There are two other forms in which moisture point is below freezing. fences. or by coalescence of chapter will be devoted to it. Dew and frost forming on from the atmosphere is deposited on the ground. if 0. middle. clouds form by the condensation of water vapor. Precipitation falls becomes saturated either by the addition of in the form of liquid rain or drizzle. melted and measured in the measuring tube to SUMMARY In this chapter we have learned that air drops or clumps of snowflakes. The water vapor is transferred from evaporating. example is the deposit of water that forms on a Hail is associated with thunderstorms and very glass of ice water. Dew and frost do not fall. or. which takes place on Clouds are classified according to their fine particles called condensation or sublimation structure as stratus or cumulus. In the last group precipitate by the ice-crystal process. more commonly. Dew forms when air next to the process to begin at very high altitudes. it is 0.01 inch of rain. or frozen snow. 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. forest fuels at night can add considerably to the These are dew and frost.01 inch away from large buildings or trees. so that 0. In saturated air. Our use. The weight is recorded funnel top. in which ground or to cold objects is chilled to the dew point case the hailstone grows as it falls through of the air. It is also possible for the near the ground. fuel moisture. and walls are not objectionable. of rain is indicated for each 0. Thus. in which are cumulonimbus or thunderstorm clouds. This device simply weighs the snow or rain the measuring tube is exactly one-tenth that of the that is collected. an electrical The standard rain gage is an 8-inch cylindrical impulse is recorded. The top of the gage should container is used. Snow caught in the gage is be level. tenths. vertical depth of the water or melted snow. freezing rain or moisture. The tipping bucket gage can be used only for common unit of measurement is the inch.01 of an inch of precipitation continuously in inches of water on a chart attached falls. The cross-sectional area of rain. by cooling to the drizzle. stick used to measure the precipitation is graduated The rain gage should be exposed in the open in inches.1 inch of stick length. but remains above freezing. For each 0. dew point. The to a revolving drum. and those Cloud droplets grow to sizes large enough to with large vertical development. sleet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature. logarithms. e. Under standard conditions. Timelag Principle One method of expressing adsorption and drying rates based on both equilibrium moisture content and fuel characteristics makes use of the timelag principle. this difference would be reduced value.2. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal. moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels.5 percent.7183. percent relative humidity. This size and other factors of fuels. but with other to as the timelag period. 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. 2. by itself.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. According to this principle. Similarly. reduced to about 8. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap. common to a variety of natural phenomena. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels. defined as constant 80°F. for example. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape.5. that when actual difference is 22. or equilibrium. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. 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. To it. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change.2 percent. The This means. the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0. Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature.6 percent. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used.8 percent. let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. however. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. 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. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14. The symbol. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles. and so on. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions. or about 14.63 x 22. This relationship indicates that 13.5 percent.

for example. 2 days. and so on. fuel diameter. days. 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. and logs consisting of all degrees of preservation and decay from the minutes. Detached components. Types of forest floor coverings vary widely depending on the nature of the forest and climatic region. Except for very fine material. and mixed with. Other fuels may be compared with these. Nevertheless. At Drying curve of 2-inch layer of litter in an environment for which the other extreme. however. in moisture response characteristics. A 2-inch litter bed with an average timelag period of 2 days can be considered the equivalent. 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. These conditions are never uniform for long. compactness. branches. often undergo much more complex fuel- moisture changes. for example. Aerial and Ground Fuels Two types of dead fuel are of particular in- terest. Thus far we have been discussing the mois- ture behavior of homogenous fuel components exposed to uniform atmospheric conditions. the mineral soil.5 percent. or other physical features—as that only the upper surface is exposed to the free having an average timelag period of 1 hour. is shape. extremes. diameter. accumulated foliage.4-inch dead branchwood having the same average timelag period. The common feature of all. air while the lower surface is in contact with the 30 days. size. we can describe There is tremendous variety between these various fuels—irrespective of type. of dead branchwood (about 1.4 inches in diameter) having a similar timelag period if there is no significant moisture exchange between the litter and the soil. 189 . Dead foliage. it is rare that even one component is really near equilibrium. has an average timelag period of about 4 days. twigs. Using the timelag principle. the surface may be covered with only 1 or 2 year’s accumulation of dead foliage and a few twigs. weight. there may be many years of the equilibrium moisture content is 5. while for logs it ranges upward to many top downward to. 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. In areas of rapid decomposition. forming more-or-less prone fuel beds on the forest floor. may be considered the equivalent of 1. Dead branchwood 2 inches in soil. A 2-inch litter bed with an average timelag period of 2 days. Logs 6 inches in diameter have an average timelag period of about 36 days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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