U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service



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


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

MAY 1970



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

at other times. fires may be affected only by the changes in a small area at or near the surface. 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. 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. the region of influence may involve many square miles horizontally and several miles vertically in the atmosphere. But these elements are measurable. At times. spread. . whereas others are only subtly perceptible to our senses. We can see or feel some of these component elements. These changes in values of weather elements influence the ignition. 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. and the measured values change according to basic physical processes in the atmosphere.

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

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. the air is extremely rarefied. or more in high-pressure systems. At atmospheric pressure. 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. Measured at successive heights. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. smoke. virtually nothing. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent.03 percent. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0.25 mb.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. It has a profound effect on weather processes.01 percent. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury.7 pounds. altitude.000 feet. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb. A pressure. In midlatitudes the 500 mb.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. atmosphere averages 14.000 feet. The normal value at sea level is 29. however. argon comprises about 0. contains many molecules and weighs 0. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. reading of 29. . for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. This is the Air. compressed by all the air above it. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. Above about 7. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. the outer limits of the atmosphere. At sea level. for each 1. or 34 mb.).000 feet of altitude up to about 7. or barometer. particles. Of the remainder. and other industrial pollutants. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances.000 feet.. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. 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. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F.92 inches. Thus. In addition to these gases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dew Point

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

585 60 . The actual vapor Table 2. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1.409 50 .279 40 . It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. to 500.149 80 1. absolute humidity because. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.032 1. and pressure is 0. which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. the weight per volume. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity. 100 1.827 70 .597 3. A direct relationship exists pressure.045 .575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1.Dew point.754 37 . vapor pressure. and the pressure.24.) cubic feet) -40 0. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1.362 . temperature.071 .125 20 . and 24 percent relative humidity.032 inches of mercury.028 .019 -20 .739 1. If the air is cooled below its dew point. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air. dew point. and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure. each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air. Using table 2.110 . Therefore. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point. 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. Because of vapor pressure of 0.032 by 0. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger. that is. the dew point is the same as the the temperature. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air.000 cubic feet. It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure. Under favorable fire weather. and a instead of dew point in the first column. Sat. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1.) (Inches of Hg.081 10 .248 rounded off. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure. that is. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity. temperature must be kept in mind.consider air with a temperature of 80°F.422 2. . in percent. the vapor pressure.362 inches of mercury. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.844 110 2. at constant times 100.051 0 .006 0. The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.166 .031 -10 .198 30 .017 . we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. three measures of atmospheric moisture.933 2.522 .011 -30 . Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F. increasing their flammability and the fire danger. Therefore. fuels.010 . saturation.248 . At depends on the actual moisture content of the air. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure. these relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

it varies considerably. This is This method employs some assumptions: (1) a cooling process. appropriate to a vertical temperature and moisture Adiabatically lifted air expands in the lower sounding through the troposphere. determine the stability of the atmospheric layer but. This definition and its explanation were (2) temperature of the parcel at its initial level. A lapse rate greater than dry-adiabatic favors vertical motion and is unstable. These are: as the resistance of the atmosphere to vertical (1) The temperature lapse rate through the layer. however. ATMOSPHERIC STABILITY Atmospheric stability was defined in chapter I in which the parcel of air is embedded. to dry-adiabatic (neutral). This rate averages about 3°F. as we will see later. In a saturated layer with considerable convective motion. motion. In this case. does not exchange mass or heat saturation. an atmospheric layer is neutrally stable if its lapse rate is the same as the dry-adiabatic rate. if temperature reaches the dew point and consequent caused to rise. the lapse rate tends to become Atmospheric stability of any layer is determined by the way moist-adiabatic. Under this particular condition. called the moist-adiabatic Three characteristics of the sounding then rate. In the case of a saturated parcel. any existing vertical motion is neither damped nor accelerated.000 feet of rise. cools at a lesser rate. per 1. Layers of different lapse rates of temperature may occur in a single sounding. the comparison of atmospheric lapse rate is made with the moist-adiabatic rate appropriate to the temperature encountered. and based on the parcel method of analysis (3) initial dew point of the parcel. As long as the air remains unsaturated. and on through inversions of temperature (very stable). (2) increase in altitude depends on whether or not the a small parcel of air in the sampled atmosphere. because vertical motion is damped. varying from superadiabatic (unstable). with the appropriate adiabatic rate. and the rate of cooling with The sounding applies to an atmosphere at rest. per 1.5°F.000 feet.000 feet for an unsaturated parcel is considered stable. pressures encountered as it moves upward. 50 . across its boundary. usually found over heated surfaces. In the absence of saturation. temperature varies through the layer and whether or not air in the layer it saturated. A temperature lapse rate less than the dryadiabatic rate of 5. per 1. STABILITY DETERMINATIONS The degree of stability or instability of an atmospheric layer is determined by comparing its temperature lapse rate.5°F. We learned that 5. and (3) rise of the parcel does it cools at the constant dry-adiabatic lapse rate of not set its environment in motion. as shown by a sounding. Rising saturated air lifting under these conditions is adiabatic lifting. the same stability terms apply.

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

000 feet and 50°F.5°F. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F. the parcel warms at rate of 5. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. would be 43°F. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. colder 3. inversions 39°F. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability.) to the temperature of its environment. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. Moved downward. Note also in the environment.000 feet to be 50°F. At 1. If the parcel is lifted.000 feet.. its temperature would be will also return to its original level. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. 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. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1.000 feet. but the temperature of temperature at 3.5°F. For our the environment would be only 57°F. Similarly.. for example. its temperature will decrease 5.000 feet of altitude. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next. If it remains unsaturated. Buoyancy purposes. The parcel will then be 8. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces.5° rate. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment. higher.5°F.grammatically by a solid black line. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F.000 feet. . Thus. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines). arrows. for example. per 1.000 feet.. per 1.5°F. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable.000 feet. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3.

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

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

it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses. however. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example. the layer would be about 3. Here exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. or 12. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5.000 feet.5°F. per 1. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. Vertical motion is. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. or 66°F. a 60. and raise it until its base is at 17.000 to 8. subsidizing layer becomes more 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. however. If the layer is initially stable. These are additional surrounding air. but after lifting it would be 66 . The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered.5°F. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5.. Similarly.5°F. The usual vironment. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. greater. are summarized below. 55 . 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. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures.5°F. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom.5 X 11. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. If no part of the layer reaches condensation. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. are weather 5. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.000 feet.2°F.5 X 12.000 feet. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. stable. it is 12. or 4. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. per 1.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3.000 feet.5 = method. Equally important. attendant energy exchange. However.5 / 3. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply.60.5°F.000 feet after lifting. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate.

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

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

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

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

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

The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air. 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. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. Deep air. drying.000-foot level. Thus. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. The temperature lapse rate from the place. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6.000-2.02 pounds per 1. where troposphere and then stops. in adjacent low-pressure areas. diverge. becomes progressively slower near the surface. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture. If the subsidence Frequently. or surface to the base of the dry air. elevations will experience warm temperatures and sinking from even the middle troposphere to near very low humidities both day and night. The temperature lapse rate in the areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion. dry subsiding of moisture. saturation would represent 1. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. inversion. 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. Some sea level. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1. is commonly about 5. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs.000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet. and its them. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low. 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.000 feet thick with a warm. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out. We need. upper-air soundings. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. is less than 0. this air may broad layer. or even higher. 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 . Below the inversion. 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. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. This subsidence inversion is moisture. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent. Often. In lowering to the surface. When this happens.000 cubic feet. therefore. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high. or higher. Then. the air beneath must flow outward. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. air successive stages. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it. the relative humidity surface. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. For example. deep.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30.000-foot level.outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. of -50° to -60°F. would then be less than 2 percent. Two features.

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

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

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

The tops of clouds in the major pressure. 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. Dust devils are always temperature and humidity measurements taken at indicators of instability near the surface. The height at which broad general picture of the atmospheric structure rising smoke flattens out may indicate the base of a over North America. Cloud types also indicate atmospheric sta- similar measurements indicate the strength of the inversion. The heights of surface or low-level 65 . it may be possible to take upper-air wind is indicative of stable air. A steady At times. temperature. We need. except observations with portable instruments in fixed-wing where mechanical turbulence is the obvious cause. by mountain waves. and moisture patterns marine layer along the Pacific coast coincide with that promote stability. 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. 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. but the base of the subsidence inversion. with little modification. Gusty wind. aircraft or helicopters. distances from the upper-air stations. or subsidence. moisture conditions in the air layer between the two levels. In areas where inversions form at night. The height of they frequently do not provide an accurate the cloud tops provides a good estimate of the description of the air over localities at appreciable height of the inversion. In mountainous country. revealing. therefore. instability. is typical of unstable air. Stability in the lower layers is indicated by the steadiness of the surface wind. These soundings show the low-level inversion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air accumulated near the surface in low centers is forced aloft. But when we consider airflow near pressure gradient. Because of friction. The resulting bal- gradients and increased air speeds may occur as anced motion is a flow directed slightly across the center is approached. and friction forces. In a low-pressure system. air near the surface flows from high. In a High. high pressure on the right” is a useful rule. The do observe. the pressure-gradient however. If the forces around a High are diagrammed. Because the centrifugal force is added to The effect of friction on airflow is to retard the the pressure-gradient force in a High. we must account for the friction force.and high-pressure low-pressure areas. and the Coriolis force is directed Friction inward. exceeded as the center is approached. very strong wind speeds near the center of Lows. But now the pressure gradient force is directed outward. a reduction in the pressure gradient. we find higher wind speed because of friction produces a wind speeds in Lows because the pressure reduction in the Coriolis force. therefore. centrifugal. that is. In spite of this. of course. the wind speed in a direction opposite to the airflow. gradients are usually much stronger. Since the Coriolis High will be greater than in a Low with the same force varies with the wind speed. among the pressure-gradient. and of ten the isobars from high to low pressure. Therefore. outward. We find. This means that the sum of the pressure-gradient and centrifugal forces balances So far we have considered straight flow and the Coriolis force. and movement. For steady motion there must be a balance One other characteristic difference also exists. the phere so that the force of friction could be speed of the wind increases with increased disregarded. increased pressure Coriolis. We can have. 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 removal of air from High centers requires downward displacement of air. still directed weak pressure gradients near their centers.three forces are in balance. 77 . curved flow at levels high enough in the atmos- In both low. amount of deviation depends upon the rough- ness of the terrain and will vary from 10 to 15 degrees over water to 25 to 45 degrees over “Back to the wind. isobars. that Highs have low wind speeds and the centrifugal force is. friction is a force acting in a subtracted from it in a Low. with closer spacing of the the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. we are now in turn. Other "fair weather" rapidly waterspouts develop from the water upward. which. equatorial regions and is cooled by radiation in the polar regions. westerly winds aloft and of the jet stream imbedded in it. cause the development of acts as a gigantic heat engine. 84 . more local wind systems low-pressure cells in the atmosphere. 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. when they move inland. 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. The that occur within the framework of the larger pressure gradients thus produced. 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. Usually they are not as intense as tornadoes are weak compared to tornadoes. The atmosphere is characteristic circulations around Highs and Lows heated by the sun-warmed surfaces in the and other pressure patterns. primary and secondary circulation. which other forces. cause the development of high and ready to consider smaller. Cool air moves from polar regions to low changes. along with circulations.are simply tornadoes occurring over the water. occurring over land.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The depth of the sea breeze is Since the monsoon flows onshore both day and usually around 1. It is a become negligible. During the day. or reduce to a negligible reaches 3. by the general circulation. Water temperatures there behavior can vary considerably. it tends to weaken.200 to 1. however. but opposition of forces also slows down the onshore usually its speed is around 10 to 15 miles per hour.000 feet or more. its lower the Atlantic coast. marine-air layer is shallower than normal. The Pacific sea breeze brings relatively cool. the daytime. called the Pacific motion is somewhat analogous to that of the coast monsoon. this with the water-land temperature contrast. Instability and months. the marine air is subjected to part of the offshore general wind and thereby loses heating as it passes over the warmer land. forward portions of the endless metal tracks on a The sea breeze is superimposed on the monsoon moving tractor. Flow from this high to the California Low surface. is marked by a wind shift and an increase in wind moist air is sufficient to carry tremendous amounts speed. During the day. 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. therefore. than does sea breeze may combine with upslope winds during the sea breeze in the East. 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. The reverse land breeze often becomes just miles inland. but sometimes night. begins in spring and lasts until fall. Often it is accompanied by fog or low stratus of marine air inland. the sea breeze. Where the marine are much lower than along the Gulf of Mexico and air is not modified appreciably. Here. thus transporting modified marine air to the higher elevations in the coastal mountains. circulation. It is an may penetrate many miles beyond. River systems and other deep passes that moist marine air to the coastal areas. 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. 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. Intense daytime land heating temperatures and higher humidities produce less under clear skies is an additional factor in producing dangerous fire weather. this air may soon become almost as warm as the air it is Pacific Coast Sea Breeze replacing. The sea breeze is. During the summer marine layer than at the surface. Its intensity will vary amount. The flow of cool. Because of surface friction. If the its identity. favorable conditions. the marine water and the land. The Pacific coast. the temperature Pacific coast. mixes with the considerable thermal turbulence and may extend upper winds. Mountains along the Pacific coastline act as assisted by the monsoon. important feature of the summer weather along Thus the effect of the sea breeze on fire much of the Pacific coast. the night land breeze. brings in a fresh surge of barriers to the free flow of surface air between the marine air. air from the ocean The Pacific sea breeze is characterized by moves inland. This seasonal flow. stronger and humidity changes with the sea-breeze front along the western than the eastern coasts. Where the marine air is greater land-water temperature differences along the modified extensively by heating. 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. particularly in the morning hours.500 feet. 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. helping to maintain inland clouds. and moves farther inland. Because of this assistance. On seaward-facing slopes the layer is thicker. the 112 . 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. rises as it is heated. However. monsoon 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. But when displace. Part of the time. relatively normal land breeze. and in another it 113 . for example. The lake breeze is common winds on the ocean-facing slopes join with a in summer. SLOPE AND VALLEY WINDS Winds in mountain topography are ex. the gen. The onshore winds. the outflowing river systems provide the unusual for most shore stations to experience principal flow routes. On a summer afternoon it is not but again. In broad valleys. Great Lakes. These conditions are convective activity may dominate the observed typical of clear summer weather in surface wind in one instance. breeze may combine with upslope winds during the daytime and bring modified marine air to higher elevations. Lake breezes can appear turbulence. this flow takes on speed wind system. along the shores of the feeble land breeze from the coastal strip at night. resulting in a cooler. Variations be- daytime heating or nighttime cooling. Their larger scale pressure systems weaken. a relatively shallow and low- strong flow. reinforce. winds associated with larger scale pressure General and convective winds may systems dominate the surface layer. or oppose each other. the usual sea-breeze characteristics. which there is a large diurnal range of surface air tremely complex. in the presence of strong often with surprising rapidity. the sea provide the principal sea-breeze flow routes. sea breeze joins with afternoon upvalley and downvalley and downcanyon flow is. 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. Downslope temperature gradient. Then. On seaward-facing slopes. the general temperatures. relationship to each other can change quickly— eral winds lessen. like the upcanyon winds. convective tween different terrain features—sometimes winds of local origin become important features separated only by yards—are often noted. The of mountain weather.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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

General winds are modified by local wind flow. scouring out valleys and canyons and Late afternoon weakening of upslope winds and the onset of completely erasing the valley wind systems. 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 degree of interaction also varies from day to night. In the Far West. this wind may add to the downslope wind on the lee side of ridges and result in increased speed. When the general wind blows in the direction opposite to the upvalley wind. 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. com- monly warm and dry. the influence of the general wind will be felt down to the valley floor. and its spread may be strongly affected as it comes under the influence of the general wind flow. 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. At night. 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 relative coldness or density of air being brought in by the general winds is an important factor. and temperatures. 120 . therefore. blows parallel to the valley. Valley winds are affected by the general wind flow according to their relative strengths. But cold. The resulting surface wind will be a combination of the general wind and the upvalley wind. 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. If the general wind is blowing in the direction of the upvalley wind and the air is relatively unstable. 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. dominate the saddles and lower ridges and combine with upvalley winds to determine wind speeds and directions at the lower elevations. Upslope winds may establish or intensify wave motion winds during the daytime when a strong general wind in the general wind flow. If the air being brought in by the general wind is relatively cold. A fire burning to a ridgetop under the influence of upslope afternoon winds may flare up. The ridges tend to shield the valley circulation from the effects of the general wind. relatively dense air combined with strong general wind flow tends to follow the surface of the topography. Similar phenomena may occur in mountainous country elsewhere. directions.

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

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

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

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

Any factors affecting air and air at the same elevation over the plains. However. Downdrafts can develop on hot days from towering cumulus clouds producing only high-level precipitation. Occurring as they do in the warm summer months. the air has sufficient momentum to traverse at least short adverse slopes in its downward plunge. It strikes suddenly and violently. They are stronger when the air mass is hot. the The downdraft in a mature thunderstorm continues out of the base of the cloud to the ground and. but are on a smaller geographic scale. 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. may produce whirlwinds. being composed of cold air. Squall winds often precede or accompany thunderstorms in the mountainous West. Although they strike suddenly and violently. follows leading edge—a front—is accompanied by squall the topography. These are strong and gusty. end quickly. but lasts only a winds. valley and slope triggering action. are common. SUMMARY In this chapter on convective winds we have and air over the valley. and winds associated with Thermal updrafts resulting from local heating convective cumulus and thunderstorm clouds. they begin and short time. develop into thunderstorms. They behave much like wind in squall lines ahead of cold fronts.h. may winds are due to land-water temperature dif. downdraft winds are of short duration. and speeds of 60 to 75 m. produce differences in the convective winds characteristic of developing temperature of the overlying air. which.and sea-breeze system. in turn.p. which are produced by local result from temperature differences between valley temperature differences. whirlwinds. the local suitable moisture and instability conditions. Up-drafts are ferences. usually following a winds are land and sea breezes. have been measured. As this air spreads out and settles to lower levels. may produce cumulus clouds. winds. Although downdraft winds are a common characteristic of thunderstorms. they may travel out many miles beyond the original storm area. these cool air masses are in strong temperature contrast with their surroundings.p. Slope winds are cumulus clouds. under In the land. Speeds of 20 or 30 m.into the principal drainage ways. The high speeds and surface roughness cause these winds to be extremely gusty. Valley winds likewise included local winds. than during the night or forenoon. The most familiar convective of this concentrated energy. These winds will also be affected by the layer of air near the surface. If it is dense enough. which. but downdrafts are produced in due to temperature differences between slope air thunderstorms after precipitation 125 . as in the late afternoon.h. heating and cooling will influence convective Strong local heating will develop a very unstable winds. and the sudden release general wind flow.

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

surfaces and falling snow or hail; and (c)


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


such fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Western United States and Canada during a few days. shifting. Wildland fires may be started by lightning most anywhere on the North American Continent where thunderstorms occur. In dry periods. These so- called “dry” thunderstorms occur mainly in the mountainous West. and gusty winds for a short time. On the beneficial side. producing strong. decreases the activity of going fires. But let us not become overconfident! The few fires that do start may be hard to find and may “sleep” until the woods dry out. and lessens the risk that lightning strikes will start fires. heavy precipitation from “wet” thunderstorms moistens fuels. 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. 166 . 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. and then suddenly become major conflagrations. overwhelming all possible fire control efforts. The second is the thunderstorm downdraft which spreads out upon nearing the ground.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

80. 53 modification. 23 and fuel moisture. 135 Bishop wave. 25. 137 Buoyancy. 129 Carbon dioxide. 18 Balance of forces. 82—83 primary. 16. 50. composition. 199- Anticyclones. 75—78 at saturation. 157 Changes of state. 111—112 patterns 78—83 Atlantic Ocean. 81. 87 Adsorption of water vapor. 76 Altocumulus clouds. 169—171 sources of. 72—73 Advection. (see Highs) 200 Appalachian Mountains. 6 fronts separating. 100 defined. 153—154 variations in. 72—73 stability affected by. 82 Air masses. 185 and fire weather. 80. defined. 25. 128 Bound water. 75. 53. 72 Advection fog. 161 reduction to sea level. 82 humidity changes in. 18. in winter. for cloud seeding. 40—41 Adiabatic process. 3 compression in. 23. 129 British thermal unit. general. 128—136 weather type. 55—56. 199 thunderstorms in. 171 B Adiabatic rate of temperature change. 129 C source regions. 53—55 Balloons. 87 weather type. (Chap. 51 Atmospheric pressure. 3 Absolute humidity. 87 layers of. 62. 51. 129—130 Black body. land and sea. 129 and stability. 131—132. 10. 211 exposure. 87 Circulation. 135 21 Aleutian Low. INDEX A composition of. 52. 7 Altostratus clouds. 78—80 221 . 3 Basic theory of general circulation. 129. 129 polar. 199 cellular. 81. 53—55 layer stability and. 12 in summer. 73 Air. 43 at saturation. 16.5) 68-84. 17. 50. 210. 50 Azores-Bermuda High. 58 aneroid. 69—72 Air drainage. 3 weather and. 33. 81 tropical. 52 maritime. 129 temperatures in. 18. 41—42 Atmospheric moisture. 169 mercurial. 198. 80. 50. 17. (Chap. 182—135 solid. 186 Barometers. 69—72 secondary (See Circulation patterns) Circumpolar westerlies. 51 Atmospheric soundings. 3. 9. 117 Bermuda High. 131—135 in radiation. 127 Breezes. 135 Celsius (Centigrade) temperature scale. 109—113 formation. 219 characteristics. 82 Centrifugal force. 115. in atmosphere. 9. 17. 25 California Current. 82 classification. 71—72 Atlantic and Gulf breezes. 2 variations in. 3) 33—48 Absorption of radiation. 87 expansion in. 75. 26 and fire behavior. 129 Bora. 157—158 Chinook. 33 Absorptivity. 136 paths of movement. 2 winter. 20. 177 California Heat Low. 80—82 Atmosphere. 17. 213—214. 199 summer. 185. 18 lapse rate related to. 102 Anemometer. 130. 17. 10 continental. 185—188 Adiabatic chart.

74 Cloud electricity. 70 formation of. 161—163 and general circulation. (Chap. 155 Convergence. 51 Diurnal temperature variations. 7) 107—126 cirrus. 159. 8. 131. 150 Cumulonimbus clouds. 155—156 Convective winds. 106. 100. 154. of air related to temperature. 100 estimating. 39 Compression. 165 Colorado Low. 54—55 Dry cold fronts. 12) 196—220 Contours. 9. 122—123. 57 àomposition. 151—152 sizes in clouds. 124—125. 159 radiation from. 12—14. canopy. 191—192 wave. 23 E Constant-level charts. cells) altostratus. 8. 23. 57 Dew-point temperature. 23—24 Conductivity. 144—163 Convection. 161—163 Deflection force (see Coriolis force) Coalescence. 151—152 Cooling. 9. 43. 73. 154 Density. (Chap. 36 Drops. 1G9—171 Dust devils. 31—32 and temperature increase. 154 Condensation level. 7 Doldrums. 219 and thunderstorms. 11—16 Constant-pressure charts. 167. 159—160 topography. 94. 9. 6. 11—14. 57 in vertical motion. 26 in geostrophic balance. temperature effects. 31—32 recognition. 75 cumulus. level of. 56 and layer stability. 185—194 seeding. 16. 121—122 in clouds. 155—156 winds on. 157 (See also Thunderstorms. 23 cells. 191 stratus. 32. 163 Conduction. 3 tables of. 173— 175 Downslope afternoon winds. 50 Conditional instability. 6 Coasts. 54 evaporation of. 129 Classification of air masses. 159—161 middle. 15 reflection from. defined. 146 Clouds. 139. 83 Dew-point lapse rate. 139—140. 153 Condensation nuclei. 155—156 contours on. 155.8. 72 Condensation. 150—151 condensation in. 89 Convective currents. 72—73 Earth. 70. 57 and work. 72 effect on radiation. 22. 86. 147. 192—194 Clouds with vertical development. 37. 36 Composition of the atmosphere. 161—163 high 154—157 Cyclones. 64 cirrostratus. defined. coalescence of. 155 Continental air masses. 69—72 altocumulus. 12—14. by evaporation. 155—163 lifting by. 17. 154—163 Day length. 177 Continental tropical air masses. 138. 70. 78 Cirrus clouds. 138—139 Dew. defined. 22. 157—158 D nimbostratus. 95. in adiabatic process. 57 classification. 163 heat of. heat balance of. 8. by type. 8. 175—177 Contrails. 199 defined. 18. 9. 7 Divergence. 54 cirrocumulus. 151—152 Drizzle. 74 Cirrostratus clouds. 154 and layer stability. 6 Cold fronts. 155—156 turbulence. 171 in rotating plane. 16. 74 (see Lows) low. 151—152 variation of. 75 frontal types. 8. 65. 160 clouds. 25. defined. 161—163 Coriolis force. 17. 17. 157—158 free.Cirrocumulus clouds. 51. 14 222 . 146 Dry-adiabatic lapse rate. 23 Dead fuel moisture. 154—163 winds. related to. 157. 75—76 entrainment in. 13—14 Daily range of temperature. 54. defined. 22. 153—154 effects of. 129—130 Continental polar air masses. 154. 135 Climate. 132—133 Classification of thunderstorms. 23 thermal. 152—153 Condensation trails (Contrails). 146 Combined heat and orographic lift. 161—163 heights. 56. 153 cumulonimbus. 38. 85. 161—162 Cumulus clouds. 35—36 Downdraft in thunderstorms. 73—74 orbit. 158. 191 types. 108 absorption of radiation by. 191 stratocumulus. 159.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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