FIRE
WEATHER
AGRICULTURE HANOBOOK 360

U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service

FIRE WEATHER ...

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

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

and

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

MAY 1970

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

CONTENTS
Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. atmosphere averages 14. smoke. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air.92 inches. or barometer. compressed by all the air above it. the outer limits of the atmosphere. particles.03 percent. It has a profound effect on weather processes.000 feet. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity. This is the Air.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. 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. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. virtually nothing.000 feet. altitude. reading of 29.01 percent. At sea level. 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. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. argon comprises about 0. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb. A pressure. . or more in high-pressure systems.000 feet. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less. and other industrial pollutants. Above about 7. At atmospheric pressure. Thus.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases.25 mb.7 pounds. 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.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. however. The normal value at sea level is 29. Measured at successive heights. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain.. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. for each 1.). The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. contains many molecules and weighs 0. In addition to these gases. the air is extremely rarefied. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent. Of the remainder. or 34 mb. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury.000 feet of altitude up to about 7.

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

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

A change in temperature may change either the two are not necessarily equal. Heat and temperature differ in that heat can be They contract as the temperature falls.u. A unit of heat capacity used in the English system of measures is the British thermal unit (B. Thus. and falling temperature is accompanied by an increase in density. Thus. amount of temperature change. or both. Rising expand when their molecular activity is increased by temperature is accompanied by a decrease in heating. the pound of water will have volume for equal temperature changes is much decreased 3 1/3°F. Either the pressure is constant and the specific heat 0. and the pound of gasoline will greater in gases under constant pressure than it is have increased 6 2/3°F. if 1 pound mospheric processes do not occur under constant of water at 70°F. The temperature of the in liquids and solids. while expansion or contraction depends on the size. large bodies of water can store large quantities of heat and therefore are great moderators of temperature. Thus. the pressure increases as molecular structures. If the pressure remains constant. and the kind of however. Thus. and the converted to other forms of energy and can be molecular activity decreases. when 3 1/3 B. In other words.u. If the Since different substances have different volume is held constant.20. One B.5.. Heat liquid. The amount of transferred from one substance to another. The change in been exchanged. dry air. but at any given and stops flowing when the temperatures are tempera. the same amount of heat the temperature rises and decreases as the applied to equal masses of different substances will temperature falls. the exchange of heat will volume changes. at 60°F.).t.t. The ratio of the heat capacity of a substance to that of water is defined as the specific heat of the substance. they have different heat capacities. but the temperature changes of solids. solids and liquids (mass per unit volume) of the gas. 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. at- of the warmer substance. Temperature. If heat flows between two substances of If the volume of a gas is held constant. For example. the as much as this exchange causes the water volume increases as the temperature rises. the pressure increases as the different specific heats. and decreases as the temperature falls. the resulting rise in temperature rises.65.0-much higher than the specific heat of other common substances at atmospheric temperatures. lure the volume is fixed. Consequently. The expansion and contraction of transfer from one substance to another. volume. temperature cause significant changes in density With minor exceptions.u. 6 .t.24. is mixed with 1 pound of gasoline. cause one substance to get hotter than the other. the volume or pressure of the gas. For example.49. density. and temperature to lower. the specific heat of water is 1. ice. about 0. changes with temperature. the temperature has neither capability. 0.45 and 0. volume temperature to the one with the lower temperature. equal. is used in a thermometer to always flows from the substance with the higher measure temperature change. for example. In this exchange of heat. 0. and dry soil and rock. or both pressure and volume cause the temperature of the gasoline to rise twice change. most woods have specific heats between 0. changes in mixture will then be 66 2/3°F. has decreases as the temperatures falls. temperature of the cooler substance will be different from the resulting decrease in temperature Since the atmosphere is not confined. determines the direction of net heat substance. is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F.

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

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

Convection is the initial motion responsible for the development of wind currents in the Heat transfer by radiation is accomplished by troposphere. process. 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. warmer. We refer to this the convection continues. 9 . emitted by any substance when its molecules are Thus. The emitting substance loses basically on the temperature gradients resulting heat and becomes cooler. The rays. and as a mixing process it is re. A shallow layer adjacent to the ground is heated during the day and cooled at night. while the absorbing from unequal heating and cooling over the earth's substance gains heat and becomes warmer in the surface. Convection is the transfer of heat within liquids and gases resulting from the motion of the fluid. and cosmic forces imposed on the less dense substance. the patterns of rising and sinking currents ultraviolet wavelengths.mined by the thermal conductivities of the respective materials.). the size of the contact area. Convection is much faster than conduction. does not require conduction. the principal role of conduction is the heating and cooling of the air as it contacts hot or cold surfaces. Transfer of expands and becomes less dense than the energy by radiation occurs over a wide spectrum of surrounding water. Radiant energy reflected by a substance does not contribute to its heat content. Convection is extremely important in weather processes and will be referred to frequently in later All substances radiate energy when their chapters. Thermal radiation is distributed in the water. Only radiation in this mass transfer of water carrying its acquired heat part of the spectrum is important in weather with it eventually heats the entire pan of water. the longest infrared wavelengths. like absorbed and reconverted to thermal energy in an the rate of heat transfer by conduction. excited by thermal energy. it depends absorbing substance. the temperature at which all molecular motion ceases. gamma rays. and smaller scale winds are discussed. the conversion of thermal energy to radiant energy. the spectrum in which radiation acts as a heat-transfer mechanism. By this convective circulation. Visible light appears near the middle of this cooler. but. more dense fluid flows in to replace the range. water touching the bottom of the pan is heated by unlike conduction and convection. less dense fluid that rises. to the will be shown. As processes in the troposphere. it the presence of intervening matter. and the temperature gradients established within the contacting bodies. 186.000 miles per second. This process. As this portion of the water is heated. The rate of heat emitting substance and retains its identity until it is transfer by convection is highly variable. the throughout the water. particularly when the general circulation temperatures are above absolute zero (-4600P. through visible light. 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. producing a uniform color. When Heating a kettle of water sort up convection currents which transfer heat heat is applied to the bottom of a pan of water. In the atmosphere. This radiation occupies By placing one or two drops of dye in the the electromagnetic spectrum from the shortest water. 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. sponsible for the transfer of heat from the hotter to The radiant energy travels outward from the the cooler portions of the earth. convection is also a mixing process.

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

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

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

Moisture in any form-solid. liquid. 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. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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

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

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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

WATER VAPOR IN THE ATMOSPHERE

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

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

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

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

the rate at which water molecules escape to the air
and become vapor molecules. The water-vapor
molecules, which escape to the air, displace air
molecules and contribute their proportionate share
to the total atmospheric pressure. This portion is
called the partial pressure due to water vapor, or for
simplicity, the vapor pressure.
Vapor pressure depends on the actual water
vapor in the air, and it may vary from near zero in
cold, dry air to about 2 inches of mercury in warm,
moist air. High values can occur only in the warm,
lower layers of the troposphere. The pressure
produced by the vapor causes some water-vapor
The partial pressure due to water vapor may vary from near zero
in cold, dry air to about 2 inches of mercury in warm, moist air.
molecules to re-enter water sur-
35

faces by condensation. The same amount of heat atmosphere, the saturation vapor pressure just about
energy that was needed for evaporation is liberated doubles for each 20°F. increase in temperature. With
to warm the condensation surface. this understanding of evaporation, condensation, and
At the water-air boundary, molecules are vapor pressure, we can now define several terms
exchanged in both directions continuously, but the used to indicate the amount of moisture in the
exchange is usually greater in one direction or the atmosphere.
other. Evaporation occurs when more molecules Table 1. – Saturation water vapor pressure
leave the water surface than enter it, and
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 dew point is the same as the the temperature. that is.consider air with a temperature of 80°F. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. 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. absolute humidity because. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity.031 -10 . Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1. in percent. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.017 . Under favorable fire weather. three measures of atmospheric moisture.081 10 .110 . The actual vapor Table 2.362 inches of mercury. If the air is cooled below its dew point.000 cubic feet.166 . and a instead of dew point in the first column. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.071 .032 1. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point.032 by 0.597 3. temperature. the vapor pressure. and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure.522 . increasing their flammability and the fire danger.028 . The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.149 80 1.051 0 .010 . and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity. and 24 percent relative humidity.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. these relationships.032 inches of mercury.019 -20 .131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some. Using table 2.933 2. at constant times 100. A direct relationship exists pressure. Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F. and the pressure. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure. to 500.827 70 . Therefore. fuels. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1.248 rounded off. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air. Sat. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger. the weight per volume. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air. which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. vapor pressure.) cubic feet) -40 0. temperature must be kept in mind.125 20 .362 .006 0.Dew point.585 60 . At depends on the actual moisture content of the air. saturation. and pressure is 0. that is. 100 1.198 30 . dew point. It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio.24.) (Inches of Hg. Therefore. each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air.279 40 .248 . It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure.011 -30 .844 110 2. .422 2. Because of vapor pressure of 0.739 1.409 50 .754 37 .045 .

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

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

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

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

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

particularly feet. Since hourly and daily changes of relative humidity are normally measured in a standard instrument shelter. 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. The marine air below is greater than that of the decrease in absolute has low temperatures and high humidities. Which effect is dominant depends upon decrease upward through the temperature in- the dryness of the surface. A typical fair-weather pattern of relative humidity. As air is lifted. both the temperature and absolute A subsiding layer of air in the troposphere humidity usually decrease with height. tive humidity increases until saturation is reached. 43 . Over a moist surface. because the effect of the decrease in temperature is a subsidence inversion. DIURNAL AND SEASONAL CHANGES IN RELATIVE HUMIDITY At night. 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. time of day. The relative humidity will humidity. Maximum humidity generally occurs about to that at shelter height. season. and higher at night. the with temperature.000 feet. as shown on a hygrothermograph ex- posed in a shelter at a valley station or one in flat terrain. per 1. temperature decreases 5.000 about relative humidity variations. and vegetation all cause important variations in relative humidity. clouds. Near the ground. and the rela- ground. 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. and the humidity. the marine inversion is present. Convection alone varies directly with moisture content and inversely would account for this increase. Relative humidity is much Above the lowest layers. It often changes rapidly and in decrease with height through the lowest layers. particularly with clear skies. however. air moisture content. where it influences both fuels and fire behavior. aspect. the change of temperature with height Relative humidity is much more variable than usually predominates. The relative humidity version at the base of the subsiding layer. This overbalance that of temperature decrease. The usually increases with height over normal surfaces marine inversion along the west coast. These two warms by the adiabatic process and forms a variables have opposite effects on the relative subsidence inversion.000 feet. the effect adiabatically heated subsiding air mass above has of the decrease in absolute humidity may higher temperatures and lower humidities. relative humidity near the ground is usually lower than at shelter height daybreak. and it is often not possible to make general statements the dew point decreases at about 1°F. significant amounts from one hour to the next and from place to place. Due to the effect of temperature.5°F. slope. and the relative humidity will absolute humidity. the dew point and the temperature vertical variations within short distances above the become 4. is nearly a mirror image of the temperature Schematic representation of surface relative humidity compared pattern. Because of these relationships. at the time of during the day. It much of the lower troposphere. Therefore. closer per 1. per 1. for example. During the day near the surface. Relative humidity is most important as a fire-weather factor in the layer near the ground.5°F. elevation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for example. Note also in the environment. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5.5°F. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. but the temperature of temperature at 3. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3.000 feet. colder 3. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1. the parcel warms at rate of 5..) to the temperature of its environment. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next.000 feet.000 feet.000 feet and 50°F. If the parcel is lifted.000 feet. For our the environment would be only 57°F. the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines).. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces.5°F.000 feet of altitude. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F. for example. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. Thus.5° rate. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5.000 feet. Similarly. inversions 39°F. The parcel will then be 8. per 1. would be 43°F. higher. If it remains unsaturated. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability.grammatically by a solid black line.000 feet to be 50°F. its temperature would be will also return to its original level.5°F. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. its temperature will decrease 5.. per 1. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable.5°F. Moved downward. Buoyancy purposes. arrows. . At 1. let us consider (C) where the parcel is its point of origin when the external force is embedded in a layer that has a measured lapse removed.

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

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

5 = method. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F.000 feet. greater.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures.5°F.5°F. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered. The usual vironment. Here again. a 60. or 4. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic.energy exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. These are additional surrounding air. 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.000 feet. 55 . The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. If no part of the layer reaches condensation. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5. 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. or 66°F. however. it is 12. are weather 5.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3. However. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example.5°F. stable. or 12. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. Vertical motion is. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. and raise it until its base is at 17.000 to 8. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1.000 feet after lifting.5 X 12. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.000 feet. but after lifting it would be 66 .. per 1. are summarized below. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses. If the layer is initially stable. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. the layer would be about 3. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable.000 feet. attendant energy exchange. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. subsidizing layer becomes more stable. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. per 1.5°F. Similarly. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5. Equally important.2°F.5 / 3. however.5 X 11.5°F. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally.60.

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

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

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

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

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

outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. Below the inversion. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out. is less than 0. or surface to the base of the dry air. When this happens. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high. Thus. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1.000 feet thick with a warm. Some sea level. dry subsiding of moisture. the air beneath must flow outward.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30.000-foot level.000 cubic feet. where troposphere and then stops. 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. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6. 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. is commonly about 5. of -50° to -60°F. Two features. Then. in adjacent low-pressure areas. air successive stages. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. 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. The temperature lapse rate from the place. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. 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. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. saturation would represent 1. becomes progressively slower near the surface. We need. the relative humidity surface. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low.000-2. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent. This subsidence inversion is moisture. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. If the subsidence Frequently. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. therefore. Deep air. this air may broad layer. For example. and its them. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. In lowering to the surface. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F. upper-air soundings. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. Often. or even higher. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion.000-foot level. The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air. diverge. or higher. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air. 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. inversion. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs. The accompanying chart shows a simplified This process can well take place in other illustration of the subsidence inversion on 3 regions when the subsidence inversion reaches low-enough levels so it can be eliminated by .000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet. would then be less than 2 percent. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. deep.02 pounds per 1. drying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

northeast wind from the northeast. Direction is also In this chapter we will consider local winds that described in degrees of azimuth from north-a are produced by the broadscale pressure gradients northeast wind is 45°. move. and we will discuss them north wind blows from the north toward the south. and decay. In weather. Cer- tainly all winds are produced by pressure gradients. and gustiness or turbulence. In fire 86 . however. Wind is air in motion relative to the earth's surface. or is it produced or modified by local Wind direction is ordinarily expressed as the influences? We find that local winds may be direction from which the wind blows. We will call these general winds. it can can measure or feel. of the earth. Why does it persist or change be indicated on a dial or recorded on a chart. a separately. we will consider local winds produced by local temperature differences. a south wind 180°. 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. as it does? Is it related to the general circulation patterns.and low-pressure areas produced by unequal At weather stations making regular weather heating and cooling of land and water masses. 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. speed. Wind direction and speed are usually measured and expressed quantitatively. a related to both. observations. with more elaborate instruments. 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. and the secondary circulations around high. unequal heating of the equatorial and polar regions particularly in mountainous topography. but northwest wind 315°. Its principal characteristics are its direction. may be modified considerably by friction or other topographic effects. and a which are shown on synoptic weather maps. GENERAL WINDS The atmosphere is in continuous motion. Ordinarily only the horizontal components of direction and speed are measured and reported. They vary in speed and direction as the synoptic-scale Highs and Lows develop. Thus. and this is adequate for most A wind vane indicates wind direction by pointing into the wind-the direction from which the wind blows. under the heading of convective winds. while in field practice turbulence is ordinarily expressed in qualitative or relative terms. The direction can be determined the local wind-the wind that the man on the ground visually or. In the next chapter. and so on around the points of the compass. purposes.

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

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

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

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

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

The difference in direction may be anywhere directions according to the compass card in the upper left. At progressively higher altitudes. whether it is convection over a fire or soundings were taken on different days at one natural circulation in the formation of cumulus station and reveal some characteristic differences clouds. but they do change as pressure centers move and change in intensity. or in any clouds. A common cause of stratification in the is the change of speed or direction with height. Even though a wind speed profile-a plot in winds-aloft patterns. or motion. the layers often directions. There is no sharp sepa- ration between them. In ascending from the surface through the lower atmosphere. wind shear 92 . but rather a blending of one into the other. The with an inversion which damps or prevents vertical accompanying illustrations show four types. which is also called the mixing layer. it is common for the troposphere to be stratified or layered. In another. sharply and change direction are common indicators of wind shear and disrupted vertical Wind Profiles circulation patterns. there is a transition in both speed and direction from the surface to the top of the friction layer. moisture. Pressure systems higher in the troposphere may differ markedly from those near the surface. Wind shear in this case altitude. lower troposphere is the overriding or underrunning Clouds at different levels moving in different of one air mass by another. the relative speeds of two air currents layer. Thus. and rising smoke columns that break off combination of these. wind direction at adjacent levels tends to be flowing in nearly opposite directions may produce uniform. from a few degrees to complete reversal. These changes produce different wind speeds and directions in the separate layers. The arrows indicate horizontal next. The depth of this friction or mixing layer is. In the of the upper air might indicate only nominal air absence of marked stratification above the friction speeds. closed pressure systems are fewer. With height. Furthermore. there may be gradual changes in the distribution of Highs and Lows. Winds aloft are those measured with airborne equipment from the surface layer up to the limit of our interest. We think of surface winds as those winds measured with instruments mounted on surface-borne masts or towers. 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. 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. 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. Usually. 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. tops being blown off growing cumulus differ in temperature. The motion. we separate winds into surface winds and winds aloft. even though the speed may change with strong wind shear effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

however. the temperature Pacific coast. its lower the Atlantic coast. It is an may penetrate many miles beyond. the night land breeze. stronger and humidity changes with the sea-breeze front along the western than the eastern coasts. Because of this assistance. Often it is accompanied by fog or low stratus of marine air inland. The Pacific coast. Its intensity will vary amount. the marine water and the land. 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. than does sea breeze may combine with upslope winds during the sea breeze in the East. 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. it tends to weaken. The Pacific sea breeze brings relatively cool. 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 sea breeze is. while the shifting wind direction daily summertime occurrence along the Pacific and increase in wind speed and gustiness can be a coast except on rare occasions when it is opposed serious detriment to fire control. the 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 sea breeze. but sometimes night. Instability and months. important feature of the summer weather along Thus the effect of the sea breeze on fire much of the Pacific coast. favorable conditions. During the summer marine layer than at the surface. Where the marine are much lower than along the Gulf of Mexico and air is not modified appreciably. rises as it is heated.200 to 1. During the day. During the day. is marked by a wind shift and an increase in wind moist air is sufficient to carry tremendous amounts speed.500 feet. air from the ocean The Pacific sea breeze is characterized by moves inland. mixes with the considerable thermal turbulence and may extend upper winds. circulation. On seaward-facing slopes the layer is thicker. Intense daytime land heating temperatures and higher humidities produce less under clear skies is an additional factor in producing dangerous fire weather. Mountains along the Pacific coastline act as assisted by the monsoon. Water temperatures there behavior can vary considerably. brings in a fresh surge of barriers to the free flow of surface air between the marine air. forward portions of the endless metal tracks on a The sea breeze is superimposed on the monsoon moving tractor. However. Flow from this high to the California Low surface. particularly in the morning hours. helping to maintain inland clouds. 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. begins in spring and lasts until fall. called the Pacific motion is somewhat analogous to that of the coast monsoon. The strong temperature contrasts then The Pacific coastal area sea breeze is at its remain near the coast while the warmed sea breeze peak at the height of the summer fire season. this with the water-land temperature contrast. The reverse land breeze often becomes just miles inland. The flow of cool. thus transporting modified marine air to the higher elevations in the coastal mountains. If the its identity. Because of surface friction. The passage of penetrate the coast ranges provide the principal the leading edge of this air—the sea-breeze front— inland sea-breeze flow routes. but opposition of forces also slows down the onshore usually its speed is around 10 to 15 miles per hour. Where the marine air is greater land-water temperature differences along the modified extensively by heating. It is a become negligible. the 112 . Within summer humidities at moderate levels in the areas the first few opposite the passes. by the general circulation. The depth of the sea breeze is Since the monsoon flows onshore both day and usually around 1. River systems and other deep passes that moist marine air to the coastal areas. marine-air layer is shallower than normal. this air may soon become almost as warm as the air it is Pacific Coast Sea Breeze replacing. and moves farther inland. This seasonal flow. therefore. Here. or reduce to a negligible reaches 3.000 feet or more. the daytime.

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

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. Upslope winds are quite shallow. momentum of the upflowing air. Differences in air heating over mountain slopes. and adjacent plains result in several different but related wind systems. Here. the depth of the warmed layer. and mechanical turbulence depth and speed as more heated air is funneled along the slope. 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. 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. process. upslope flow in the daytime and downflow at night. These systems combine in most instances and operate together. valleys. Turbulence and depth of the unstable layer increase to the crest of the slope. local pressure gradients caused by nonuniform heating of mountain slopes. 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. The interactions between airflow of different origins. but it is subject to interruption or change at virtually any time or place. 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. canyon bottoms. They result from horizontal pressure differences. convergence of upslope winds from Upslope winds are shallow near the base of slopes but increase in opposite slopes. They flow upslope during the day as the result of surface heating. and downslope at night because of surface cooling. local changes in stability that aid vertical motion. Their common denominator is upvalley. upcanyon. Wind behavior described in this section is considered typical.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. if that flow is moderate or strong. 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. or from a combination of the two. which is the main exit for the warm air. Ravines or draws facing the sun are particularly effective chimneys because of the large area of heated surface and steeper slopes. combine to make the ridge a very turbulent Warm air bubbles forced upward cause turbulence which increases region where much of the warm air escapes aloft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIR MASSES AND FRONTS

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

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

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

FORMATION AND MODIFICATION OF AIR MASSES

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

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

surfaces and falling snow or hail; and (c)

AIR-MASS WEATHER

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

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

131

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

160 . Usually it does not produce precipitation. Stratus often forms by the lifting of a layer of fog. They are generally composed of small water droplets and may produce light drizzle. gray cloud layer with a fairly uniform base and top. 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 is a low.

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 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. 166 . shifting. and gusty winds for a short time. Wildland fires may be started by lightning most anywhere on the North American Continent where thunderstorms occur. In dry periods. Chapter 10 THUNDERSTORMS Two characteristics of thunderstorms make them an important element in fire weather. producing strong. On the beneficial side. decreases the activity of going fires. overwhelming all possible fire control efforts. These so- called “dry” thunderstorms occur mainly in the mountainous West. and then suddenly become major conflagrations. The second is the thunderstorm downdraft which spreads out upon nearing the ground. Several hundred wildfires can be started by lightning during one day on a single forest or district. and lessens the risk that lightning strikes will start fires. such fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Western United States and Canada during a few days. heavy precipitation from “wet” thunderstorms moistens fuels.

THUNDERSTORMS

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

CONDITIONS NECESSARY FOR THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT

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

167

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

168

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

THERMODYNAMICS OF THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT

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

169

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

170

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

WEATHER AND FUEL MOISTURE

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

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

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

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

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

182

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

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

182

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

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

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

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

defined as constant 80°F. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14.2. or equilibrium.7183.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. and so on. but with other to as the timelag period.6 percent. and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature.5 percent. the approach to equilibrium values from moisture The equilibrium moisture content—the average for six fuel types is contents either above or below equilibrium follows shown—depends mainly upon the relative humidity. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape. however. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. by itself. temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap. Under standard conditions. This size and other factors of fuels.5. To it. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change. let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. This relationship indicates that 13. moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation. 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. or about 14.8 percent. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles. this difference would be reduced value. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. percent relative humidity. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . 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. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal. common to a variety of natural phenomena. the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0.2 percent. 2. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. e. Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents. 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. The This means. logarithms. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0.63 x 22. for example. Similarly. According to this principle. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions.5 percent. that when actual difference is 22. The symbol. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels. reduced to about 8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

land and sea. 129 Carbon dioxide. 80. 82 Air masses. 26 and fire behavior. 69—72 Air drainage. 16. 51. 50. 169—171 sources of. 157—158 Chinook. 52. 102 Anemometer. 50.5) 68-84. 185 and fire weather. 161 reduction to sea level. 73 Air. 128 Bound water. 18. 17. 18 Balance of forces. 82—83 primary. in winter. 3 weather and. 80. 127 Breezes. 199 thunderstorms in. 210. 75. 9. 62. 55—56. 76 Altocumulus clouds. 33. (Chap. 129 polar. 53—55 Balloons. 18 lapse rate related to. 81. 6 fronts separating. 17. 135 Celsius (Centigrade) temperature scale. 129 and stability. 23. 51 Atmospheric soundings. 199 cellular. INDEX A composition of. 109—113 formation. 51 Atmospheric pressure. 177 California Heat Low. 75. 50 Azores-Bermuda High. 3) 33—48 Absorption of radiation. 186 Barometers. 182—135 solid. general. 129—130 Black body. 129 C source regions. 7 Altostratus clouds. 135 21 Aleutian Low. 43 at saturation. 17. 87 weather type. 17. 53. 58 aneroid. 3. 10 continental. 3 Basic theory of general circulation. defined. 2 variations in. 169 mercurial. 137 Buoyancy. 198. 3 Absolute humidity. 72—73 stability affected by. composition. 40—41 Adiabatic process. (Chap. 18. 87 expansion in. 153—154 variations in. 82 classification. 87 Adsorption of water vapor. 80—82 Atmosphere. 87 Circulation. 129 Bora. 41—42 Atmospheric moisture. 71—72 Atlantic and Gulf breezes. 185. 53 modification. 78—80 221 . 82 Centrifugal force. 199 summer. 75—78 at saturation. 25. 135 Bishop wave. 23 and fuel moisture. 25 California Current. 81 tropical. 3 compression in. 53—55 layer stability and. 10. 25. for cloud seeding. 52 maritime. 157 Changes of state. 16. 9. 2 winter. 72—73 Advection. 80. 219 characteristics. 12 in summer. 69—72 secondary (See Circulation patterns) Circumpolar westerlies. 20. 131—132. 17. 129 temperatures in. 100 defined. 213—214. 82 humidity changes in. 87 layers of. 117 Bermuda High. (see Highs) 200 Appalachian Mountains. 50. 33 Absorptivity. 131—135 in radiation. 171 B Adiabatic rate of temperature change. 129. 211 exposure. 72 Advection fog. 128—136 weather type. 129 British thermal unit. in atmosphere. 185—188 Adiabatic chart. 136 paths of movement. 111—112 patterns 78—83 Atlantic Ocean. 81. 199- Anticyclones. 130. 115.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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