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

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

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

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

Traces of several other gases account for less than 0.. however. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. and other industrial pollutants. the outer limits of the atmosphere. Thus. argon comprises about 0. contains many molecules and weighs 0.92 inches. or barometer.03 percent. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. .000 feet. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air.000 feet. altitude. The normal value at sea level is 29. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. At atmospheric pressure.7 pounds. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. the air is extremely rarefied. 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. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. or 34 mb. The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less.01 percent. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18.000 feet of altitude up to about 7. particles. Of the remainder. smoke. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. compressed by all the air above it. atmosphere averages 14. or more in high-pressure systems. It has a profound effect on weather processes. reading of 29. Above about 7.). This is the Air. 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. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. At sea level.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. A pressure. 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. virtually nothing. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. In addition to these gases.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013.000 feet. for each 1.25 mb. Measured at successive heights. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0.

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

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

The change in been exchanged. In other words. For example.). Heat and temperature differ in that heat can be They contract as the temperature falls. while expansion or contraction depends on the size.u. large bodies of water can store large quantities of heat and therefore are great moderators of temperature. the pound of water will have volume for equal temperature changes is much decreased 3 1/3°F. The ratio of the heat capacity of a substance to that of water is defined as the specific heat of the substance. amount of temperature change. volume temperature to the one with the lower temperature. Thus. the as much as this exchange causes the water volume increases as the temperature rises. The temperature of the in liquids and solids. ice. and falling temperature is accompanied by an increase in density. The expansion and contraction of transfer from one substance to another.49. For example. 0.20. the volume or pressure of the gas. and decreases as the temperature falls. the resulting rise in temperature rises. Thus. The amount of transferred from one substance to another. In this exchange of heat. Temperature.t. Either the pressure is constant and the specific heat 0. temperature of the cooler substance will be different from the resulting decrease in temperature Since the atmosphere is not confined.u. or both. and the converted to other forms of energy and can be molecular activity decreases. they have different heat capacities. for example. temperature cause significant changes in density With minor exceptions. equal. if 1 pound mospheric processes do not occur under constant of water at 70°F. Heat liquid. when 3 1/3 B. is mixed with 1 pound of gasoline. and temperature to lower. lure the volume is fixed. the pressure increases as molecular structures. is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. Rising expand when their molecular activity is increased by temperature is accompanied by a decrease in heating.65. If the Since different substances have different volume is held constant. determines the direction of net heat substance. the temperature has neither capability.. 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. the exchange of heat will volume changes. A change in temperature may change either the two are not necessarily equal. or both pressure and volume cause the temperature of the gasoline to rise twice change. the same amount of heat the temperature rises and decreases as the applied to equal masses of different substances will temperature falls.0-much higher than the specific heat of other common substances at atmospheric temperatures. at 60°F. Thus. If the pressure remains constant.t. density. changes with temperature. volume. Thus. at- of the warmer substance.5. dry air. is used in a thermometer to always flows from the substance with the higher measure temperature change. If heat flows between two substances of If the volume of a gas is held constant. One B. and the kind of however. the pressure increases as the different specific heats. has decreases as the temperatures falls. and dry soil and rock.u. 0. cause one substance to get hotter than the other. solids and liquids (mass per unit volume) of the gas. Consequently. changes in mixture will then be 66 2/3°F. most woods have specific heats between 0.t. but at any given and stops flowing when the temperatures are tempera. and the pound of gasoline will greater in gases under constant pressure than it is have increased 6 2/3°F. the specific heat of water is 1. 6 .45 and 0. about 0. A unit of heat capacity used in the English system of measures is the British thermal unit (B.24. but the temperature changes of solids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
Temperature, Pressure,
condensation occurs when the opposite takes
°F. inches of mercury
place. Actually, both condensation and evaporation
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,

the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure.362 .011 -30 .032 by 0. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1.597 3.585 60 . Therefore. and 24 percent relative humidity. The actual vapor Table 2.consider air with a temperature of 80°F.Dew point. in percent. to 500. saturation. the weight per volume.071 . Because of vapor pressure of 0. and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure. at constant times 100.110 . which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity.017 .149 80 1. the dew point is the same as the the temperature. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.248 rounded off. and a instead of dew point in the first column. vapor pressure.006 0. that is.166 . absolute humidity because.24. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air.045 . It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. and pressure is 0. increasing their flammability and the fire danger.279 40 . It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure. three measures of atmospheric moisture. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. Using table 2. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1.933 2. A direct relationship exists pressure. fuels. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place. temperature. Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F.019 -20 . temperature must be kept in mind.754 37 . is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.028 . 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.844 110 2. and the pressure.032 inches of mercury.522 . Therefore. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air.198 30 .362 inches of mercury. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air. The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F. dew point. Sat. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger. If the air is cooled below its dew point. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity.032 1. 100 1. Under favorable fire weather.) (Inches of Hg. these relationships.010 .248 .031 -10 . each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air.) cubic feet) -40 0.409 50 . that is. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1.827 70 .000 cubic feet.051 0 . .125 20 .739 1.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. the vapor pressure.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point.081 10 .422 2. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) increase in altitude depends on whether or not the a small parcel of air in the sampled atmosphere. to dry-adiabatic (neutral). per 1. usually found over heated surfaces. ATMOSPHERIC STABILITY Atmospheric stability was defined in chapter I in which the parcel of air is embedded. A temperature lapse rate less than the dryadiabatic rate of 5. the same stability terms apply.000 feet for an unsaturated parcel is considered stable. In this case. We learned that 5. as we will see later. In the absence of saturation. appropriate to a vertical temperature and moisture Adiabatically lifted air expands in the lower sounding through the troposphere.5°F. As long as the air remains unsaturated. the comparison of atmospheric lapse rate is made with the moist-adiabatic rate appropriate to the temperature encountered. 50 . however. it varies considerably. if temperature reaches the dew point and consequent caused to rise. In a saturated layer with considerable convective motion. This rate averages about 3°F. pressures encountered as it moves upward. temperature varies through the layer and whether or not air in the layer it saturated. and the rate of cooling with The sounding applies to an atmosphere at rest. does not exchange mass or heat saturation. determine the stability of the atmospheric layer but. Rising saturated air lifting under these conditions is adiabatic lifting. across its boundary.000 feet. and on through inversions of temperature (very stable). and (3) rise of the parcel does it cools at the constant dry-adiabatic lapse rate of not set its environment in motion. per 1.000 feet of rise. This is This method employs some assumptions: (1) a cooling process. These are: as the resistance of the atmosphere to vertical (1) The temperature lapse rate through the layer. as shown by a sounding. the lapse rate tends to become Atmospheric stability of any layer is determined by the way moist-adiabatic. per 1. This definition and its explanation were (2) temperature of the parcel at its initial level. any existing vertical motion is neither damped nor accelerated. because vertical motion is damped. STABILITY DETERMINATIONS The degree of stability or instability of an atmospheric layer is determined by comparing its temperature lapse rate. Layers of different lapse rates of temperature may occur in a single sounding.5°F. cools at a lesser rate. called the moist-adiabatic Three characteristics of the sounding then rate. with the appropriate adiabatic rate. and based on the parcel method of analysis (3) initial dew point of the parcel. A lapse rate greater than dry-adiabatic favors vertical motion and is unstable. motion. varying from superadiabatic (unstable). In the case of a saturated parcel. Under this particular condition. an atmospheric layer is neutrally stable if its lapse rate is the same as the dry-adiabatic rate.

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

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

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

000 feet. The altitude of the point is thus at the condensation The atmosphere illustrated by the above level. the measured lapse rate of the layer is 4. assume a the parcel is forced to rise above the condensation sounding. of these.000 dry and moist adiabats. the parcel will begin free ascent.5°F. at the rate of 1°F. reach the temperature of the surrounding air at The 80°F. The parcel dew-point temperature become buoyant and accelerate upward. causes the moist-adiabatic lapse rate to increase toward the dry-adiabatic rate. The temperature of a parcel raised from near the surface will peratures of parcels and the surrounding air. depending on the temperature structure of the air aloft. continuing meanwhile decreases. For this example. per 1. The unstable. it will cool at the dry-adiabatic rate until of free convection. Reliance on the parcel method of analyzing atmospheric stability must be tempered with considerable judgment. is that there is no 54 . which has a lapse rate lying between the In our example. level. The parcel Conditional Instability temperature at this point is therefore at the dew point. At the level where the parcel temperature sumptions upon which the method is founded. follow the dry-adiabatic rate until saturation. temperature and 62° dew point 6. If the adiabatic chart. plotted on the accompanying chart. per 1.000 feet.and moist-adiabatic rates is plotted temperature lapse rates on the adiabatic conditionally unstable. the parcel temperature will is 80°F. This may be in the vicinity of the tropopause or at some lower level.000 feet. in this case about 2. The level at which the parcel becomes indicate that the parcel is initially unsaturated. A saturated parcel in free convection loses additional moisture by condensation as it rises. If we draw a line on to cool at the moist-adiabatic rate. however. is said to be conditionally feet above sea level at a temperature of 58°. plus the colder temperature aloft. 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. This layer is. It is true that from the A lapse rate between the dry. stable with respect to a lifted parcel as long as the parcel temperature follows the dry-adiabatic rate. In our example. example. as we learned in chapter 3. It is unstable with respect to a lifted saturated parcel.the dry-adiabatic and moist-adiabatic lines shown on shown by the sounding for the surrounding air. because it would be unstable under chart one can read differences between tem- saturated conditions but stable under unsaturated conditions. in this case about 2. starting at the requiring an external lifting force. condensation occurs at 4. and the dew point is 62°. therefore.5°F. We will rate. The rising parcel will thus eventually cool to the temperature of the surrounding air where the free convection will cease. the parcel will saturation occurs. This. surface 62° dew point.000 feet. because the temperature of the saturated parcel would follow the lesser moist-- adiabatic rate. per 1.5°F. it then cools at the moist-adiabatic showing a temperature lapse rate of 4. we find that this line intersects the fty-adiabatic path of the parcel. for example. At start with a parcel at sea level where the temperature this rate of change. then follow the These are based. temperature is lower than that but it is unstable with respect to a lifted parcel that has become saturated. and no longer the adiabatic chart with a slope of -1°F. Above this level. however. One exceeds the environment temperature.5°F. As the warmer than the surrounding air is called the level parcel is lifted. on the initial as- moist-adiabatic rate.

the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F.000 feet. 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. subsidizing layer becomes more stable. or 4. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.000 feet.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. are summarized below. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5.000 to 8.5°F. stable.5 = method.5 X 12. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5. If no part of the layer reaches condensation.5°F. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered.60.2°F. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. but after lifting it would be 66 .5°F. are weather 5. These are additional surrounding air. attendant energy exchange. per 1. the layer would be about 3.. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply.000 feet. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example.5 X 11. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted.5°F.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3.000 feet. or 66°F. however. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom.5 / 3. per 1. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. it is 12. or 12. however. 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. If the layer is initially stable. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. The usual vironment. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures. Vertical motion is. Equally important. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. However.5°F.000 feet after lifting. and raise it until its base is at 17. a exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. Similarly. Here again. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses. greater. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. 55 .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The curvature of the isobars in Lows. of the pressure surface at a number of stations are plotted on a weather map. anticyclonic. 74 . or simply Lows for short. (about 30. Areas of high pressure on a constant level chart would appear as areas of high heights on a constant-pressure chart. it makes little difference whether we think of pressure distribution in terms of a constant-level or constant-pressure chart. usually in tens of meters. For our purpose.000 feet). precipitation will result. Troughs a trough is cyclonic. Air around a low flows counterclockwise in the northern Hemisphere and spirals inward. These are called low-pressure centers or areas. These contours are strictly analogous to the contours on a topographic map. or that have a lower pressure than the surrounding region. On a sea-level chart we will find areas above. 700 mb. (about 10. The characteristics of a trough are similar to those of a Low. Latent energy released by the condensation adds to the energy of the circulation system. Contours of height for 60-meter intervals are drawn through points of equal height. Lows are usually characterized by inward and rising air motion. 500 mb.000 feet). and 300 mb. They are also called cyclones because the air flows around them in a cyclonic direction (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere). A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. if sufficient moisture is present. When a weather map is analyzed as described patterns. The isobars show a cyclonic curvature at the trough line but do not form a closed circulation. and a line of high pressure is referred to as a ridge. The only difference is that the constant pressure chart depicts the height of a pressure surface. while the topographic map depicts the height of the ground surface above sea level. This converging airflow produces rising motion. Frequently a trough delineates the boundary between two different airflows and is a common place for the development of storm centers. (about 18.000 feet). A line of low pressure is referred to as a trough. and low-pressure areas would show up as low heights. Sufficient lifting with adequate moisture will produce condensation of water vapor into clouds and may result in precipitation. and. we find certain configurations. (about 5. The pressure along the line is lower than the pressure on either side. The heights above sea level.000 feet).troposphere are 850 Tabs. in a ridge. which results in cooling and increased relative humidity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The motion. We think of surface winds as those winds measured with instruments mounted on surface-borne masts or towers. Usually. 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. we separate winds into surface winds and winds aloft. At progressively higher altitudes. 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. but they do change as pressure centers move and change in intensity. or motion. or in any clouds. as we saw when we considered the effects of friction dependent upon the roughness of the terrain and the intensity of heating or cooling at the surface. closed pressure systems are fewer. 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. The winds aloft above the mixing layer are more steady in speed and direction. Even though a wind speed profile-a plot in winds-aloft patterns. wind direction at adjacent levels tends to be flowing in nearly opposite directions may produce uniform. In ascending from the surface through the lower atmosphere. With height. it is common for the troposphere to be stratified or layered. moisture. Wind shear in this case altitude. and rising smoke columns that break off combination of these. but rather a blending of one into the other. sharply and change direction are common indicators of wind shear and disrupted vertical Wind Profiles circulation patterns. The difference in direction may be anywhere directions according to the compass card in the upper left. Pressure systems higher in the troposphere may differ markedly from those near the surface. from a few degrees to complete reversal. wind shear 92 . there is a transition in both speed and direction from the surface to the top of the friction layer. tops being blown off growing cumulus differ in temperature. Thus. The with an inversion which damps or prevents vertical accompanying illustrations show four types. Winds aloft are those measured with airborne equipment from the surface layer up to the limit of our interest. Furthermore. the relative speeds of two air currents layer. the layers often directions. These changes produce different wind speeds and directions in the separate layers. A common cause of stratification in the is the change of speed or direction with height. even though the speed may change with strong wind shear effects. which is also called the mixing layer. In another. lower troposphere is the overriding or underrunning Clouds at different levels moving in different of one air mass by another. With strong stratification the wind Wind speeds and directions aloft in a stratified atmosphere may direction may change abruptly from one layer to the vary from one layer to the next. In the of the upper air might indicate only nominal air absence of marked stratification above the friction speeds. there may be gradual changes in the distribution of Highs and Lows. The depth of this friction or mixing layer is. The arrows indicate horizontal next.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

000 feet or more in the well-known waves or standing waves. The lee slope of the mountains may experi. it is called a foehn wind. Considerable turbulence and strong updrafts and downdrafts are found on the lee side. foehn winds leeward side. wind is warm and dry. various sizes which roll down the slope. Large-scale waves occur in the Rocky Mountains.Mountain waves form when strong winds blow perpendicular to mountain ranges. Within FOEHN WINDS Foehn winds represent a special type of local important in this discussion. 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 . 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. The waves oscillation finally ceases. therefore. Roll eddies tend to be smaller series of lesser waves downstream until the in each succeeding wave downstream. Bishop wave in California. 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. In most temperatures and the fact that the ground is often mountainous areas. If the down flowing critical fire-weather situation. but at times there may be insufficient moisture to form clouds. because of its cold wind associated with mountain systems. and wave clouds will be located in the tops of the ence strong downslope winds or many eddies of waves. Inertia carries each wave downstream from the mountain range. which creates a most slopes on the leeward side. local winds are observed that mow-covered when it occurs. a the air past its equilibrium level. Crests of waves may be marked by lens-shaped wave clouds. downward by gravity on the lee side. roll clouds will elsewhere. We are concerned blow over the mountain ranges and descend the more with the warmer foehn. cap clouds will lesser scale appear in the Appalachians and form over the crest of the mountains. so it rises again large roll eddy may be found with its axis parallel to farther downslope. Waves may extend as downwind of the mountains are referred to as lee high as 40.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the triggering action is burning embers. and move bodily out of the main fire area. and can pick up fair-sized large amount of heat is being generated in a small debris. area. such as an obstruction or a sharp ridge. Such firewhirls have been known to whirlwinds last only a few seconds. The direction of rotation is accidental. debris.p. Once convection is established. the firewhirls Diameters range from 10 to over 100 feet.p.p. Wind speeds in the whirlwinds are ordinary whirlwinds moving across the landscape. Upward currents may be as heavy concentrations of fuels are burning and a high as 25 to 30 m. and spreads the fire to new fuels. and then spew them out far across the fireline and The sizes of whirlwinds vary considerably. At times. picks up with the surface wind. The blackened ashes and 123 . but as soon heights range from 10 feet to 3.000 feet in as they do the flame dies out and they become extreme cases.h. If it does Firewhirls break away. Mechanical forces are often present Whirlwinds are common in an area that has just burned over. Those whirlwinds that move show instability in the lower air and may cause violent a tendency to move toward higher ground. Some firewhirls.000 or 4. It may be either the sun. the whirlwind usually remains adjacent to the object. 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. carry them aloft. several hours. and hotspots remaining in the fire area clockwise or counterclockwise. The latent energy may be released by some triggering mechanism. charred materials are good absorbers of heat from depending on the triggering action. it may die out and another develops The heat generated by fires produces extreme over the object. and in some cases have Firewhirls occur most frequently where exceeded 50 m. produced by a stationary object.h. They several minutes and a few have continued for can pick up large burning embers.h. may also heat the air. air in the heated layer is drawn into the breakthrough. but many last twist off trees more than 3 feet in diameter. often more than 20 m. cause numerous spot fires.

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

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

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

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


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a common method of estimating the condensation and visible clouds. Continued rising would produce form. In fact. If the air rose to an altitude of 4. be scattered in geographic extent. it is greatest over percent. base of cumulus clouds formed. If the locally heated air would all have decreased to 62°F. orographic. that result in heavier showers and thunderstorms. Saturation contains enough moisture and rises far enough. As an example.. More frequently.. gives the approximate height of the cloud base in continued heating develops cumuli-form clouds thousands of feet. 147 . and a relative humidity of 54 surfaces. wet-bulb. This showers. In flat country..5. the highest peaks and ridges. or frontal. per thousand feet. wet-bulb temperature of 71°F. suppose we begin with heated Rainfall associated with thermal lifting is likely to air at the surface having a temperature of 84°F. It may turn morning stratus clouds lower layers is to divide the difference between the into stratocumulus with the possibility of light surface air temperature and dew point by 4. dew-point the greatest convective activity is over the hottest temperature of 66° F. Lifting may be thermal. In mountain country. and dew-point temperatures 4.5°F. usually in the Thermal lifting is most pronounced in the summer months.000 feet. and dew point approach each other at the rate of the dry-bulb. depending on stability. would have been reached as the humidity would be saturation will be reached and cumulus clouds will 100 percent. by thermal convection in the warm seasons. The most important method of cooling air to saturation is adiabatic cooling because of lifting.

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

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

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

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

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

but we Ice crystals can be created in a supercooled considered only saturation vapor pressure with (‘loud by dropping pellets of dry ice. a vapor- pressure gradient exists between supercooled water droplets and cloud. 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. and liquid cloud droplets begin purposes are suspended in the air. Vapor molecules move to the ice droplets seem to float in the air. cools that with respect to super-cooled water at the same droplets along its path to temperature temperature. ice crystals grow at the crystals. or carried to the cloud by convection from In chapter 3 we discussed vapor pressure and ground generators.164 101 If a cloud containing supercooled water droplets is saturated with respect to water. Vapor molecules leave the water drops droplets and sublime on the ice crystals. If the snowflakes reach warmer levels.have a negligible rate of fall. crystal precipitation process. saturation vapor pressure at some length.166 . Even drizzle to evaporate. and for all practical below 100 percent. Thus. the ice crystals size from about 1/50 inch to 1/5 inch in diameter.045 0. Raindrops range in crystals and crystallize there. As expense of water droplets. 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. into the cloud from above.110 . Silver-iodide composed of both ice crystals and supercooleci crystals can be released in the cloud by aircraft or liquid cloud droplets. and the ice crystals will grow rapidly. and the relative humidity with respect to ice is greater than 100 percent.063 112 20 . which have a droplets can coexist in clouds with subfreezing structure similar to ice crystals. as shown in the following table: Comparative Saturation Vapor Pressures Over Water and Ice Relative Tempera. 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. then it is supersaturated with respect to ice. There seem to be two processes which act together or separately to cause millions of cloud Artificial Nucleation droplets to grow into a raindrop. the relative humidity with respect to water ice crystals in mixed clouds. 153 . For the ice-crystal process of sublimation nuclei in super-cooled clouds at precipitation to take place.104 106 30 . solid carbon respect to liquid water. One is the ice- crystal process and the other is the coalescence The knowledge that frequently there is a process. average size to make one raindrop about 1/8 inch in they melt and become raindrops. The dry ice.) (Inches of mercury) (Percent) 0 0.038 119 10 .U71 . It takes about 30 million cloud droplets of snowflakes. can be effective temperatures. rockets. pressure with respect to ice is somewhat less than which has a melting temperature of -108°F. clouds must be temperatures below about 20°F. The saturation vapor dioxide. 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.Saturation vapor pressure humidity ture over Over water Over ice ice (°F. This is the ice- diameter. It has been We have seen that ice crystals and cloud found that silver-iodide crystals..

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

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

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

sometimes develop with thunderstorms. with and usually are found on the south side of the jet. Altocumulus clouds are usually composed of water droplets. 157 . It tends generally formed by either frontal or orographic to cover the entire sky. but may be formed through dimly as through a frosted glass. activity and their use in indicating high-altitude Usually. Middle clouds are most mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. 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 6.500 or veil with a sort of fibrous texture. Often they are associated with several ways. and the sun will shine lifting. Often they are the forerunner of lifting by convergence in upper-air troughs and warm-front activity and give advance warning. Altocumulus are usually composed of water droplets and often are supercooled. the more distinct moisture and wind direction and speed. Altocumulus and altostratus made up of supercooled water droplets or a clouds fall into this group. Altocumulus may appear as irregular thunderstorms. the stronger the wind. Cirrus-type clouds may be produced in in other ways. but may contain some ice crystals at very low temperatures. Altocumulus are white or gray patches or rolls of solid cloud. the pattern. often supercooled.000 feet. each individual component having a rounded They may also be produced from the anvil tops of appearance. It may be feet up to 20. They are distinguished from cirrocumulus by the larger size of the cloud elements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.


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

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

frequently referred to as the “first gust.” As this initial surge strikes an area it causes a sharp change in wind direction and an increase in speed. The speed of the downdraft within the cell varies. If such a cloud with laterally into the familiar “anvil” top. in the lower 5. thus accelerating its downward Raindrops and ice particles have grown to such an fall.000 feet under the updraft. this rain reaches the ground. The frictional drag exerted by the rain or other precipitation the first gust is accompanied by a sudden initiates a downdraft. remains high as long as the dome of cold air is over an area. but intense. sometimes as much as 25°F. the convection change in the circulation within the cell takes from the fire may join with the updraft and they place. the storm’s movement opposes the outflow and makes it much less pronounced. the storm’s movement is added to the speed of the outflow. The visible cloud top flattens and spreads into the growing cloud above.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. Below the cloud. Usually it is not so strong as the updraft. The downdraft becomes most pronounced near the bottom of the cell cloud where the cold air appears to cascade downward.h. usually rising to 25. The effect of a fiat ground surface is to force the downdraft to pile up and spread out horizontally as a small. This joining may strengthen the inflow at the surface and cause the As raindrops and ice particles fall. To the rear. 173 .. The change from updraft updraft. There is a downdraft in part of the cell and an temperature drop.p. The updraft is wormer. to start first near the freezing level and spreads The convection cell reaches its maximum height in both horizontally and vertically.p. This wind discontinuity is most pronounced on the forward side of the thunderstorm. The updraft the mature stage.h. The mature stage. begins when rain starts falling out of the base of the cloud. The downdraft appears the cell has built upward beyond the freezing level. 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 horizontal outflow of air produces a strong and highly turbulent surge. The pressure is colder. A marked its updraft passes over a going fire.inturning of winds forming the area of convergence tropopause and reaching to 50. Except remainder. and the downdraft and a sharp rise in surface pressure. the most active portion of the thunderstorm Because the outflowing air is cold and heavy.000 feet or so above the ground. than the air surrounding the cell. they drag fire to become active. which may exceed 50 m. air with them and begin changing part of the circulation from updraft to downdraft.000 or 35.000 or 60. This occurs roughly 10 to 15 minutes after to downdraft is progressive. cold front. Melting of ice and evaporation of raindrops extent that they can no longer be supported by the cool the descending air. the downward rush of cool air decreases somewhat. Here. updraft in the remainder. The air being dragged downward by the under arid conditions or with high-level falling rain becomes cooler and heavier than the thunderstorms. but may reach 30 m. surrounding air. cycle. The updraft at the center feeds or higher.

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

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

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

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

TORNADOES Tornadoes are violent whirling storms which from a cumulonimbus cloud. moisture is present. but are Mexico but occasionally from over the eastern most active in the afternoon when they are assisted subtropical Pacific. may winds at higher levels in the mountains. They take rotating columns of air range in size from a the form of a funnel or tube building downward hundred feet to a half mile in 178 . heavy air is usually guided by the topography into downslope and downcanyon flow. moving eastward at a higher latitude. One is the in. or may be picked up by a trough moist air spreads northward from New Mexico. but cross-slope flow from the main belt of westerlies. The cold. within this closed Low produces instability and There are two principal weather patterns causes convective currents to develop. several days or a week before finally dissipating or moving on. usually from over the Gulf of can develop at any time of the day or night. mountains. These storms The Far West is a favorite place for closed usually develop in the afternoon and may extend Lows to develop. heavy air is level storms is the cold Low aloft. at levels of 10. although flow in any direction is possible. and by heating and upslope thermal The Low may move in virtually any direction. Arizona. With this pattern generally guided by the topography into downslope a closed low-pressure system aloft becomes cut off and downcanyon patterns. and southern California. They may meander around for into the evening hours. They flow of moist air. The cold air may also occur. as the deepen or fill. The downdraft and outflow from a high-level thunderstorm is likely to reach the ground even though the precipitation evaporates before reaching the ground.000 to 18.000 by daytime heating. The cold. Thunderstorms are set off by lifting over upper Low is erratic and very difficult to predict. outflow usually reach the ground even though the The second important weather pattern in high- precipitation does not. If sufficient which produce high-level storms. The movement of a closed feet. thunderstorms will form. These violently may occur with severe thunderstorms.

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

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-


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

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

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

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

63 x 22. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents.5 percent. Under standard conditions. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. this difference would be reduced value. 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. that when actual difference is 22. or about 14. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. by itself. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14.2 percent. This relationship indicates that 13. 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.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. 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. The symbol. the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0. reduced to about 8. and so on. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal. e. logarithms. defined as constant 80°F. 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. however. moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation.5.6 percent. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. The This means. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change. percent relative humidity. To it. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature. Similarly. According to this principle. 2. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels. common to a variety of natural phenomena. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response. This size and other factors of fuels.2.7183. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature. but with other to as the timelag period. or equilibrium. for example.8 percent. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions.5 percent. temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

171 B Adiabatic rate of temperature change. 75. 185 and fire weather. 87 Adsorption of water vapor. 80. 82 humidity changes in. 51 Atmospheric pressure. 7 Altostratus clouds. 17. 43 at saturation. 40—41 Adiabatic process. 51 Atmospheric soundings. for cloud seeding. 18 lapse rate related to. 50. 41—42 Atmospheric moisture. 25. in winter. 9. 51. 199- Anticyclones. INDEX A composition of. 9. 185—188 Adiabatic chart. 2 winter. (Chap. 3 weather and. 199 thunderstorms in. 129 temperatures in. 82 Centrifugal force. land and sea. 25. 50. 55—56. 20. 80. 6 fronts separating. 198. 186 Barometers. 82 Air masses. 17. 87 layers of. 50 Azores-Bermuda High. defined. 87 expansion in. 3 Basic theory of general circulation. 52 maritime. 76 Altocumulus clouds. 17. 210. composition. 3 Absolute humidity. 137 Buoyancy. 23.5) 68-84. 82 classification. 109—113 formation. 87 weather type. 157 Changes of state. 72 Advection fog. 127 Breezes. 3) 33—48 Absorption of radiation. 219 characteristics. 129 Carbon dioxide. 136 paths of movement. 81. 71—72 Atlantic and Gulf breezes. 80—82 Atmosphere. 131—132. 199 summer. 62. 78—80 221 . 52. 73 Air. 18 Balance of forces. 12 in summer. 129 polar. 81 tropical. 58 aneroid. 3. 211 exposure. 157—158 Chinook. 82—83 primary. 23 and fuel moisture. 169 mercurial. 10. 111—112 patterns 78—83 Atlantic Ocean. general. 53—55 Balloons. 153—154 variations in. 50. 129 and stability. 182—135 solid. 17. 18. 3 compression in. 25 California Current. 128—136 weather type. 18. 16. 53—55 layer stability and. 129 C source regions. 169—171 sources of. 115. 2 variations in. 75. 81. in atmosphere. 135 Celsius (Centigrade) temperature scale. 72—73 stability affected by. 161 reduction to sea level. 135 Bishop wave. 129 British thermal unit. 75—78 at saturation. 16. 17. 33 Absorptivity. 199 cellular. 129 Bora. (see Highs) 200 Appalachian Mountains. 10 continental. 117 Bermuda High. 87 Circulation. 102 Anemometer. 26 and fire behavior. 129—130 Black body. 33. 130. 72—73 Advection. 177 California Heat Low. 80. (Chap. 135 21 Aleutian Low. 128 Bound water. 53 modification. 213—214. 185. 129. 100 defined. 53. 69—72 secondary (See Circulation patterns) Circumpolar westerlies. 131—135 in radiation. 69—72 Air drainage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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