U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service



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


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

MAY 1970



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. the region of influence may involve many square miles horizontally and several miles vertically in the atmosphere. These changes in values of weather elements influence the ignition. At times. 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. 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. We can see or feel some of these component elements. and intensity of wildland fires. But these elements are measurable. fires may be affected only by the changes in a small area at or near the surface. All these conditions and changes result from the physical nature of the atmosphere and its reactions to the energy it receives directly or indirectly from the sun. at other times. and the measured values change according to basic physical processes in the atmosphere. spread.

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

Measured at successive heights. or more in high-pressure systems. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18.01 percent.000 feet. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity. At atmospheric pressure. or barometer.Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. The normal value at sea level is 29.000 feet of altitude up to about 7. argon comprises about 0.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. however. This is the Air.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. Above about 7. and other industrial pollutants. smoke. altitude. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury. particles. virtually nothing. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude. In midlatitudes the 500 mb.). A pressure.92 inches. atmosphere averages 14. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen. for each 1. the outer limits of the atmosphere. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. each cubic foot A common method of measuring pressure is that of comparing the weight of the atmosphere with the weight of a column of mercury.000 feet. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air.03 percent. reading of 29.25 mb. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. Of the remainder. Water vapor tends to act as an independent gas mixed with the A column of air from sea level to the top of the atmosphere weighs about air. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less.7 pounds. contains many molecules and weighs 0. It has a profound effect on weather processes. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. At sea level. the air is extremely rarefied..000 feet. . compressed by all the air above it. 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. The rate of decrease is about I inch of mercury. or 34 mb. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. Thus. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. In addition to these gases. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain.

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

5 . so does energy in a swinging pendulum. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

heated air parcels will be carried to much greater amount of water vapor present. depending mostly on the rate. calm nights this is the primary method of cooling. On clear. per day. How Air is Cooled Air-cools at night by the same beat transfer processes-conduction. these lower layers are heated by absorption of earth radiation as well as by conduction and convection. more dense air. 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. The greatest temperature shallow rises resulting from surface heating occur with light winds. cooling the air in contact with it. the surface is cooled more slowly. 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. When clouds or significant water vapor is present. most of it by conduction. which is cooled while the air aloft may remain near day temperatures. Since most of the water vapor is concentrated in the lower layers of the atmosphere. If. much of the outgoing radiation from below is intercepted and reradiated back to the surface. but at a slower rate than the heat lost near the surface through clear. radiation. Then the heating and mixing take place heating comes from below.5-1°F. Thus. The rest of the heights. If the lapse rate turbulence and mixing so that heat is distributed is stable through a deep layer. and the air temperature near the above. earth. 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 a warm air mass. Water vapor and clouds also lose heat to the sky by their own radiation. 26 . 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. The surface begins to coot first by radiation. throughout a deep layer. hooting and mixing will take place throughout a deep layer. The heated surface air becomes buoyant and Thus.000 to 2. layer of perhaps 1. Strong winds cause more affected by the lapse rate of the air. and convection-as it heats during the day. dry air. It is primarily the surface air layer.000 feet. and the How Air is Heated temperature of this layer will increase rapidly. and the rise in air through direct contact with the warmed surface of the temperature near the ground will be less and slower. we can see that the characteristic air-mass is forced upward by cooler. 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. perature of air near the surface. Winds at night also reduce the cooling of surface air by bringing down and mixing warmer air from In a relatively unstable air mass. through a layer of air several thousand feet deep. We will now consider how local changes in air temperatures are produced within the limitations of the air-mass temperature.

maximum temperature about mid-afternoon. At the surface know that the gases and substances with good the temperature may be 150°F. On the average. the lapse rate may deviate significantly from this average. and dust. They develop most readily with clear skies becomes warmer.5°F. heated air parcels do not rise any time. Superadiabatic lapse we measure air temperatures aloft. In the lowest layers of the atmosphere. that transmit signals electrically to continues.000 feet. 27 . Therefore.slow the surface radioactive cooling. air next to from below by conduction and convection. and reaches its reaching its maximum depth about mid afternoon. as determined from many hundreds of areas. Under extreme conditions such a lapse rate that the temperature of the atmosphere decreases may extend to 1.000 Often under calm conditions. The atmosphere is often stratified as a result of horizontal motion aloft. while at the shelter heat-absorbing properties. We also the ground can become quite hot. Early in the morning. eliminates the night inversion. The warm air is forced upward. deeper layer. As mixing to balloons. Each stratum may have its individual temperature structure. heating begins at the surface. however. Another reason for the change toward the dry-adiabatic. Such rates are conducive to convection and vertical measurements are made by instruments. per 1. We generally find this situation when to the first few hundred feet. smoke. excessive heat is continually supplied to the and as air is moved down it is compressed and surface. however. such as dark soils and surface ma- decrease with height in the troposphere at 45° N. Inversions aloft. or by subsidence in large high-pressure systems. Local winds may be quite gusty. terials. attached mixing. lapse space by radiation. therefore. measurements or soundings. In any altitudinal range in the troposphere at over flat terrain. warming air in a very shallow layer. is 3. and over surfaces with the highest The year-round average rate of temperature temperatures. the dif- VERTICAL VARIATION OF AIR TEMPERATURE We have seen that the atmosphere is heated On days with strong surface heating. are more changes in temperature with height far exceed the concentrated in the lower levels of the atmosphere. show that early in the morning a shallow layer of air is heated. but it does ference between day and night air temperatures is spread its effects on air temperature through a much greater near the surface than it is aloft. and especially feet. are caused by the inflow of warm air above. The warmed layer Successive plots of temperature against height an a clear day becomes gradually deeper with additional heating. such as water vapor. but only to the level where its temperature is equal to that of the surrounding air. rate. heat is lost to the dry-adiabatic is called a superadiabatic. dry-adiabatic lapse rate. and light winds. but normally it is confined with height. A lapse rate that exceeds At higher levels in the atmosphere. the change of temperature with height varies con- siderably from day to night. the superadiabatic lapse rate tends to receivers on the ground. Such liquid water. though less common than at the surface. height (4 1/2 feet) it may be only 90°F. We should expect. and gradually the warmed layer becomes deeper and deeper. strong decrease of temperature with height is that air superadiabatic conditions persist during times when expands and becomes cooler as it is moved up. particularly burned-out and blackened latitude.

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

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

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

large water bodies. where there is little temperature. the same pattern difference in solar heating through the year. In general. Sparse timber or timber stand may become warm air pockets during other vegetation will merely decrease the strength the day. shading provided by less dense vegetation accelerate the rate of burning of surface fires. determines. as we have seen. where summer days have a upon all of the factors we have discussed so far. In one area. seasonal variation increases with latitude to both The diurnal temperature variation depends polar regions. Openings in a timber stand tend to act as chimneys under conditions of strong daytime homing and light winds. Some cool air height within the forest in the afternoon are likely to from the crowns sinks down to the ground surface. maximum of 24 hours of sunshine and winter days The normal daily pattern at an inland location with a maximum level terrain consists of a daily temperature 31 . Openings in a moderate to dense by radiation to the cooling crowns. 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. Large water bodies principally by latitude. chimneys and may SEASONAL AND DIURNAL VARIATIONS IN AIR TEMPERATURE Seasonal temperature patterns are affected of 24 hours of darkness. and the moderate the seasonal temperature cycle because general circulation patterns. and seasonal variation of temperatures near the surface thus a reduction in the monthly or seasonal is least in equatorial regions. the air temperature distribution be. In another area. the weather with successive influxes of cold air. The latitude effect of their great heat capacity. which are close enough to be influenced by these tween the ground surface and the canopy top. It "chimneys. This may produce opposite effects. due to the angle at which the general circulation pattern may produce cloudy sun's rays strike the earth. be 5° to 8° cooler than the temperatures in nearby and there is some additional cooling at the surface cleared areas. the is. These openings often act as natural of the inversion just above the ground surface." will range between that found over bare ground and Night temperatures in dense timber stands that under a closed canopy.

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

Chapter 3


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dew Point

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

at constant times 100. each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air. and a instead of dew point in the first column.248 rounded off. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure.279 40 .032 inches of mercury. and 24 percent relative humidity.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. these relationships.585 60 .) (Inches of Hg.045 . and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure. the weight per volume. 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. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1.081 10 . the vapor pressure. Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.028 . and pressure is 0.166 . A direct relationship exists pressure.933 2. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity.110 .006 0. absolute humidity because. temperature must be kept in mind.827 70 . that is.032 by 0. that is. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place. . Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1.754 37 . temperature.031 -10 .010 . increasing their flammability and the fire danger.362 inches of mercury. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point.409 50 . and the pressure. The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.522 .844 110 2. fuels.24. conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger.125 20 . to 500.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some.017 . the dew point is the same as the the temperature. Therefore. dew point. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air. It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure.198 30 . the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount.739 1.597 3.032 1.149 80 1.) cubic feet) -40 0. Because of vapor pressure of 0.248 . Sat. It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio.Dew point.consider air with a temperature of 80°F. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air. Using table 2. Under favorable fire weather. three measures of atmospheric moisture.019 -20 . is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity.422 2.362 . If the air is cooled below its dew point.000 cubic feet.051 0 . The actual vapor Table 2. vapor pressure.011 -30 . of the amount of moisture in a volume of air. and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure.071 . 100 1. saturation. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. in percent. Therefore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and humidities will be correspondingly lower. If the airflow is restricted. between forest stands and forest openings. these openings serve as chimneys for convective airflow. Two factors lessen the humidity difference nounced when there is a green understory. Deciduous forests have only slight effects on Overcast skies limit both heating and cooling. these may range from 5 to 20 percent lower in the clearing than within a well-shaded forest. Openings of up to about 20 yards in diameter do not have daytime relative humidities much different from under the canopy-except at the heated ground surface. As mentioned in the previous chapter. and lower at night. Relative humidity is normally higher under a closed canopy than in the open during the day. however. the stagnation coupled with strong radiation can cause locally high humidities. 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. drought conditions decrease the amount of moisture available for evaporation and tran- spiration. At night in small openings. 47 . and surface air is drawn into them from the surrounding forest. and humidity during their leafless period. higher daytime humidities are even more pro.Temperature and relative humidity traces at mountain stations are often less closely related ban at valley stations. usually somewhat higher than in the woods. temperatures may rise slightly above those at exposed stations. Changes in absolute humidity are more important at mountain stations.

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

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

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

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

colder 3. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5. its temperature will decrease 5. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1.000 feet.. At 1. would be 43°F. If the parcel is lifted. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5. its temperature would be will also return to its original level. . Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next. the parcel warms at rate of 5. Thus. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3. Buoyancy purposes.000 feet to be 50°F. per 1. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces.) to the temperature of its environment.5° rate.000 feet.5°F.5°F.5°F... while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F. Note also in the environment.000 feet of altitude. but the temperature of temperature at 3.000 feet. for example. If it remains unsaturated. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment. inversions 39°F. the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. per 1. arrows. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable. For our the environment would be only 57°F.000 feet and 50°F.000 feet. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F. The parcel will then be 8. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. for example. Similarly. the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines).000 feet.grammatically by a solid black line. 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. higher. Moved downward.5°F.

the dry-adiabatic rate. the parcel will change in adiabatic rate should be considered relatively temperature at the same rate as that of its unstable.000 of colder air into the area aloft or warmer air into feet. we learned in chapter 2.000 feet. vertical currents are easily dry-adiabatic rate or 0. sounding makes use of both and unstable in a relative. and buoyancy will cause it to warming and the degree of stability of the accelerate upward as long as it remains warmer atmosphere only with respect to air that is not than the surrounding air. the air tends to adjust around 3°F. the saturated. A stable lapse rate that approaches the dry- downward in this layer.000 feet. but it varies slightly with itself through mixing and overturning to a more pressure and considerably with temperature. more lapse rate tends toward neutral stability. while that of its surroundings would be 38°F. are called super-adiabatic. ease. Moved downward. lesser rate which is called the moist-adiabatic rate. 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. 39°F.5° less per 1. therefore. In an atmosphere with a dry-adiabatic consider an unstable case. On the average. In warmer air masses. At an altitude of 5. per 1. the parcel is warmer and less dense than the So far we have considered adiabatic cooling and surrounding air. may eventually reach the dew-point surrounding air and accelerate downward. passive.000 feet at very warm the surface of the earth on sunny days. 53 . that is. Advection of warm air aloft or cold air its surroundings. When an temperatures to about 5°F. with the result that the temperature no longer decreases at the dry-adiabatic rate. rather than an absolute. 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. if our parcel is lifted. per 1. the horizontal movement plotted temperature lapse rate is 6°F. that a neutrally stable lapse rate. Further cooling results in the an atmospheric layer having a lapse rate greater condensation of water vapor into clouds. the also by advection. Thus. it will cool at the becomes unstable. will travel upward with weather. This heat is added to the condition. its cold temperatures.000 feet at very unsaturated layer of air is mixed thoroughly. for near the surface has the reverse effect of making example. but will assist. The stable condition. the temperature of the parcel would be the atmosphere more stable. and can develop a tall convection column. per 1. temperature. 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. environment and. as mentioned earlier. Rising air. For this. hot gases rising from a fire will layer is a potentially serious condition in fire encounter little resistance. while in colder air The term "neutral" stability sounds rather masses. little water vapor is available. we need to know both will then not only permit. cooling at the dry-adiabatic parcel would similarly cool more rapidly than the lapse rate. will always be in temperature equilibrium with the surrounding air. water vapor is available for condensation and therefore more heat is released. but is continually changing. per 1. after we unstable. and represents an unstable contained in the vapor. we should consider the terms stable. Once the lapse rate Again. and it and condensation. such a a wildfire will make a neutral lapse rate become layer is neutrally stable. Hence. which is greater than the dry adiabatic rate.000 feet than initiated. but we should be cautious when such a lapse rate is present. but we will see. dew-point temperature. the area near the surface. a change than the dry-adiabatic rate is conducive to vertical of state process that liberates the latent heat motion and overturning. but at a Lapse rates greater than the dry-adiabatic rate. neutral. vertical the initial temperature of the parcel and its motion. This stability analysis of a Thus. If moved upward or sense. Such changes are easily brought about.. this rate is But since they are unstable. A neutrally stable atmosphere can be made unstable In the last example (D) in unsaturated air. Technically. The temperature structure of Stability of Saturated Air the atmosphere is not static. rising air.

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

greater. Vertical motion is. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply.5 = method. however. and raise it until its base is at 17.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. however.2°F. These are additional surrounding air.000 feet. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. per 1. the layer would be about 3. The usual vironment. Equally important. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. If no part of the layer reaches condensation. Here again.000 feet. Similarly. a 60.000 feet.5°F. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example.5 X 12.5°F. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically. it is 12. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. subsidizing layer becomes more stable.5°F. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. per 1. If the layer is initially stable. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3. but after lifting it would be 66 . attendant energy exchange. The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5.000 feet after lifting. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses.5°F. sounding data and connecting them with straight lines Environment Parcel Dew-point Altitude temperature temperature temperature Sea level 80 80 * 62 2000’ 71 69 * Dry-adiabatic lapse rate 60 4000’ Condensation level 62 58 * 58 6000’ Level of free convection 53 53 ~ Moist-adiabatic laps 53 8000’ 44 48 ~ 48 LAYER STABILITY Many local fire-weather phenomena can be Originally.000 to 8. are weather 5. are summarized below.5 / 3. stable. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. 55 . the bottom of a layer of air being assumptions with respect to conservation of mass lifted is more moist than the top and reaches its and energy.. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered.5°F. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated. or 66°F. or 12. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable.60. However.5 X 11. or 4.000 feet. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3.

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

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

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

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

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

000-foot level. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent. If the subsidence Frequently. inversion. of -50° to -60°F. Often. 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. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. 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. diverge. Below the inversion.000 feet thick with a warm. elevations will experience warm temperatures and sinking from even the middle troposphere to near very low humidities both day and night. dry subsiding of moisture. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air. the air beneath must flow outward. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out. would then be less than 2 percent. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. deep. is less than 0. For example. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. the saturation absolute humidity This air may be drier than can be measured with of air in the upper troposphere with a temperature standard sounding equipment. The temperature lapse rate from the place. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs. The temperature lapse rate in the areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic. Thus. this air may broad layer.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1. air successive stages. When this happens.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30. or higher. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. This subsidence inversion is moisture.000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing. or surface to the base of the dry air. upper-air soundings. saturation would represent 1. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6. We need. in adjacent low-pressure areas. the relative humidity surface.000-2. Some sea level. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. Then. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. 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. drying. and its them. or even higher. is commonly about 5. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high. The accompanying chart shows a simplified This process can well take place in other illustration of the subsidence inversion on 3 regions when the subsidence inversion reaches low-enough levels so it can be eliminated by . In lowering to the surface.000 cubic feet. where troposphere and then stops.000-foot level. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. becomes progressively slower near the surface. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F.02 pounds per 1. Deep air. therefore. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion.outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. Two features.

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

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

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

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

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

a Between stable and unstable lapse rates we very serious fire situation can result. may have a conditionally unstable situation in which the atmosphere's stability depends upon whether or The first four chapters have been concerned not the air is saturated. decrease of temperature with height indicates an unstable condition which promotes up and down Subsidence is the gradual lowering of a layer of currents. which has little initial Where the temperature increases with height. When it begins at high levels stable condition which inhibits vertical motion. dry air can reach the surface. surface characteristics. during evaporation. in the troposphere. warm. occurrence of dust devils. During condensation in with basic physical laws and with the statics of the saturated air. the atmosphere is extremely resulting lower relative humidity as it approaches stable. A large phenomena as indicators of stability. We can use type of cloud. heat is released which warms the air atmosphere-its temperature and moisture and their and may produce instability. and other troposphere influences vertical motion. moisture. some extent its pressure. distribution both horizontally and vertically. A small decrease with height indicates a air over a broad area. the air. SUMMARY In this chapter we have seen how the other factors. wind-flow distribution of temperature vertically in the characteristics. If some mechanism is present by which this warm. In the next chapter. the surface. we will consider pressure distributions more thoroughly Atmospheric stability varies with local heating. becomes increasingly warmer with through an inversion.and circulation. and see how they are related to atmospheric with wind speed. and many 67 . cold air advection. and to heat is absorbed and may increase stability.

If we are to become acquainted with these variations in fire weather. and in seasonal changes in fire weather. we must understand how they are brought about. . and the settings in which they take place. The response to overall airflow applies also to local fuel conditions. and stability-respond continually to the varying patterns of pressure systems and to the changing properties of huge masses of air moving in generally predictable circulations over the earth's surface. temperature. 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. Chapter 5 GENERAL CIRCULATION Local fire-weather elements-wind. moisture. so an understanding of general air circulation within the troposphere is essential to a usable knowledge of wildland fire behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as it does? Is it related to the general circulation patterns. GENERAL WINDS The atmosphere is in continuous motion. a separately. a south wind 180°. 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. They vary in speed and direction as the synoptic-scale Highs and Lows develop. under the heading of convective winds. Why does it persist or change be indicated on a dial or recorded on a chart.and low-pressure areas produced by unequal At weather stations making regular weather heating and cooling of land and water masses. Cer- tainly all winds are produced by pressure gradients. and so on around the points of the compass. 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. northeast wind from the northeast. and a which are shown on synoptic weather maps. we will consider local winds produced by local temperature differences. 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. move. In weather. a related to both. Thus. but northwest wind 315°. while in field practice turbulence is ordinarily expressed in qualitative or relative terms. may be modified considerably by friction or other topographic effects. with more elaborate instruments. and gustiness or turbulence. but the distinction here is that the pressure gradients produced by local temperature differences are of such a small scale that they cannot be detected and diagnosed on ordinary synoptic-scale weather charts. In the next chapter. speed. of the earth. Ordinarily only the horizontal components of direction and speed are measured and reported. unequal heating of the equatorial and polar regions particularly in mountainous topography. Its principal characteristics are its direction. We will call these general winds. Wind is air in motion relative to the earth's surface. In fire 86 . purposes. and we will discuss them north wind blows from the north toward the south. Direction is also In this chapter we will consider local winds that described in degrees of azimuth from north-a are produced by the broadscale pressure gradients northeast wind is 45°. and decay. and the secondary circulations around high. observations. Wind direction and speed are usually measured and expressed quantitatively. it can can measure or feel. and this is adequate for most A wind vane indicates wind direction by pointing into the wind-the direction from which the wind blows. however. The direction can be determined the local wind-the wind that the man on the ground visually or.

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

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

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

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

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

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

in eastern portions of the continent than during the In fair weather. is characteristic of a well-mixed atmosphere. peaks and ridges 93 . West. Strong summer surface heating a night inversion. The variability of general surface winds during A layered structure of the lower few thousand feet the spring and fall fire seasons is somewhat greater of the atmosphere appears to favor their formation. however. the higher changes. subjected to them. 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. and encouraged by cooling from the surface at both to hinder the movement of Highs and Lows night. these jets have been observed and to lift winds associated with them above much to reach maximum speeds in the region just above of the topography. 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. above lowland night inversions may occasionally be is found in a region of abrupt change in wind speed. Stratification in the first few thousand feet is movement of pressure systems than occur in the discouraged by daytime heating and thermal mix. this strongly suggests a greater summer fire season of the mountainous West. In the West. The probability of occurrence at night than during the East experiences more frequent and rapid day. the major mountain chains tend ing. 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. near the surface with relatively low wind speeds above. An interesting feature of the occurrence.A wind profile without abrupt changes in wind speed or direction Wind shear occurs where wind speeds change abruptly. For example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

must be recognized. and their patterns known. If their interactions are understood. 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. In many areas they are the predominant winds in that they overshadow the general winds. Fires occurring along a coastline will react to the changes in the land and sea breezes. 107 . 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. in which the influences of the general winds on fire behavior will predominate. Certainly there will be times when the convective winds will be severely altered or completely obliterated by a strong general wind flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

surfaces and falling snow or hail; and (c)


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coast Ranges. Lifting of moist air over mountain ranges is an important process in producing clouds and precipitation. hills. maritime polar air flowing in Similarly in the East. air moves eastward.. If the temperature at the surface of a thermally lifted parcel of air was 84°F.. and produces precipitation in the Appalachian Rocky Mountains are the principal mountain 148 . in which air is forced up systems involved. In the West. is an important process in producing clouds heaviest precipitation. and mountain the western slopes. and Rocky Mountains.. Orographic lifting. the wet-bulb 71°F. Sierra- Cascades. In the West the winter precipitation is heaviest on the western slopes of the Coast Ranges. The lee slopes and adjacent and precipitation. As in thermal lifting. Lifting in each case occurs on the windward side of slopes. 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. Sierra-Cascades. Lowlands to east of the ranges are comparatively dry. saturation would b. reached at 4.000 feet above the surface. the air is valleys and plains receive progressively less as the cooled by the adiabatic process. and it is these that receive the ranges. and the dew point 66°F.

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

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

For this reason. These fine molecules on a liquid or solid surface. convergence occurs during the daytime over mountain peaks and ridges as thermal up-slope winds from opposing sides meet at the top. reached. SUBLIMATION. low-pressure areas usually are areas of cloudiness and regions may be the result of a combination of precipitation. consist of salt particles. Here. Condensation nuclei. friction deflects the flow toward the center. were concerned with the change of state of water For condensation or sublimation to occur in from gaseous to liquid or solid forms. or much more intense than if convergence had not by convergence in low-pressure areas and troughs. These 151 . and we used the free air. the circulation around a low-pressure system results in convergence. on which ice crystals We are all familiar with condensation and form. As we discussed in chapter 5. on which formed in the free atmosphere. Dew and particles are of two types: condensation nuclei and frost do form that way. process becomes more complicated. and of steam rising from composition and structure. or on cold water pipes and cold glasses. Daytime cumulus clouds over mountains may be produced by heating. We winter. consist of dust. a particle or nucleus must be present for simple examples the impaction of water vapor for water-vapor molecules to cling to. and combustion products. low-pressure areas are usually areas of cloudiness and precipitation. AND PRECIPITATION PROCESSES We discussed earlier in chapters 1 and 3 some of water vapor into frost on cold window panes in of the aspects of condensation and sublimation. We have seen dew formed on grass effective at different below-freezing temperatures. occurred. lifting may be CONDENSATION. As the temperature decreases. different nuclei are boiling water. Frontal convergence.precipitation triggered by other processes may be assisted by orographic lifting in mountain areas. 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. Frontal lifting is frequently combined with orographic lifting and nighttime cooling. On a small scale. volcanic ash. We have discussed various methods by which air becomes saturated and condensation and precipitation are produced. Sublimation nuclei. We have noticed the condensation of crystallline materials. but cloud particles are sublimation nuclei. at night. and here the liquid cloud droplets form. orographic lifting. there is a corresponding upward flow of air. but we must remember that in most cases two or more of these methods are acting at the same time. With more air flowing toward the center than away from it. additional nuclei and have noticed the sublimation become active in the sublimation process. Because of differences in our breath on cold days. For moves from the Gulf of Mexico into the Plains this reason. and the convergence of thermal winds all acting together. Still more droplets of sulfuric acid. 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 other sublimation.

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

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

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

” True cirrocumulus are rare and are associated with other forms of typical cirrus at the High Clouds same level. They may form formation can be used as an indicator of the definite patterns at times. The cumuliform clouds project upward from a Cirrocumulus clouds consist of patches of stratiform cloud layer. feathery unstable air which is forced to ascend may first cloud up near the top of the troposphere. and the sun or moon. feathery clouds in patches or narrow bands. Larger crystals often trail down vertically and have given rise to the name “mares’ tails. the type of cloud small. “mackerel sky. They are sometimes referred to as clouds are formed. white. showing small but firm stability of the atmospheric layer in which the waves or ripples.” 155 . They are develop stratiform clouds and then develop sometimes called “mares’ tails” and may have cumuliform clouds as the layer becomes unstable. composition. often changing into other forms of High clouds have bases ranging from 16. and Cirrostratus clouds are thin. whitish veils. trailing streams of larger ice crystals beneath them. white cloud elements.unstable when it is lifted. A layer of conditionally Cirrus are isolated wisps of thin.000 feet. caused by their ice-crystal this is their most distinguishing characteristic. cirrocumulus. They are composed of ice crystals of varying size. Cirrus clouds are thin. Thus. Halos around are usually composed entirely of ice crystals. They sometimes covering the entire sky. frequently identify this cloud type. Cirrus. cirrostratus clouds are included in this family. to 45.500 cirrus in a short time.

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

It may be feet up to 20. Middle clouds are most mixture of water droplets and ice crystals. Altocumulus and altostratus made up of supercooled water droplets or a clouds fall into this group. Altocumulus may appear as irregular thunderstorms. each individual component having a rounded They may also be produced from the anvil tops of appearance. sometimes develop with thunderstorms.500 or veil with a sort of fibrous texture. often supercooled. but may be formed through dimly as through a frosted glass. Altocumulus are usually composed of water droplets and often are supercooled. Middle Clouds Altostratus appears as a gray or bluish layer Middle clouds have bases ranging from 6.000 feet. but may contain some ice crystals at very low temperatures. 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. the more distinct moisture and wind direction and speed. Sometimes they are associated with the jet stream Altocumulus are white or gray patches. They are distinguished from cirrocumulus by the larger size of the cloud elements. with and usually are found on the south side of the jet. Often they are associated with several ways. Cirrus-type clouds may be produced in in other ways. the stronger the wind. It tends generally formed by either frontal or orographic to cover the entire sky. Altocumulus are white or gray patches or rolls of solid cloud. Often they are the forerunner of lifting by convergence in upper-air troughs and warm-front activity and give advance warning. 157 . and the sun will shine lifting. the pattern. Altocumulus clouds are usually composed of water droplets. activity and their use in indicating high-altitude Usually.

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

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

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

depends fronts. Fog may also occur in connection with condensation level described in chapter 4. Many fogs are a Clouds with vertical development include combination of these two types. ice crystals may appear in the tops of larger cumulus. This type occurs especially cauliflower appearance. Like stratus. it is composed of small water air passes over a cool surface and its temperature is droplets and may produce light drizzle. and the upper portion often resembles a cauliflower. have sharp outlines. Upslope fog forms cumulus and cumulonimbus. They are composed of a great density of small water droplets. The height of the bases. 161 . particularly in advance of warm fronts upon the air temperature and the amount of where evaporating rain falling through a layer of moisture in the atmosphere. formed near the top of rising convection columns. Advection fog forms when warm. It forms when the air is necessary to produce a layer of fog of significant somewhat unstable. Cumulus clouds are cold air near the surface saturates the cold air. whereas stratus forms in stable thickness. They are dense.conditions in a stable atmosphere and is formed in The distinction between stratus and strato- several ways. radiating surface. which is the Mexico. reduced to the dew point. and individual cloud bases are at about the mT air moves northwestward from the Gulf of same altitude. moist air. Some vertical mixing is usually soft and gray. These are irregularly when moist. 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. stable air is forced to rise along a shaped masses with domes or turrets and have a sloping land surface. They usually appear in along the western edge of the Great Plains when groups.

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

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

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

dew point. but remains above freezing. sleet. or by coalescence of chapter will be devoted to it. The water vapor is transferred from evaporating.01 inch of rain. freezing rain or moisture. 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. in which are cumulonimbus or thunderstorm clouds. droplets or ice crystals into rain- 165 . and those Cloud droplets grow to sizes large enough to with large vertical development. or. middle. Precipitation falls becomes saturated either by the addition of in the form of liquid rain or drizzle. It is also possible for the near the ground. the funnel and measuring that the gage is placed at a distance of at least twice tube are removed. and according to nuclei. when the air is chilled to its dew point and the dew There are two other forms in which moisture point is below freezing. and only the outside cylindrical the height of the object. MEASUREMENT OF PRECIPITATION Precipitation is measured on the basis of the obtain the liquid equivalent of the snow. In saturated air. Snow caught in the gage is be level. forest fuels at night can add considerably to the These are dew and frost. Our use. an electrical The standard rain gage is an 8-inch cylindrical impulse is recorded. A common successive concentrations of supercooled water. example is the deposit of water that forms on a Hail is associated with thunderstorms and very glass of ice water. so that 0.1 inch deep in the measuring tube. fuel moisture. For each 0. This device simply weighs the snow or rain the measuring tube is exactly one-tenth that of the that is collected. Several types of recording gages that make sleet. 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. The tipping bucket gage can be used only for common unit of measurement is the inch. and walls are not objectionable. it is 0. The to a revolving drum. hail. Thus. Snow. by cooling to the drizzle. Dew and frost do not fall. The cross-sectional area of rain. or hail.1 inch of stick length. if 0. provided When snow is measured.may be due to the hailstone being caught in strong but instead are deposited when water vapor updrafts and carried upward into the region of condenses or sublimes on the ground or on objects supercooled droplets. stick used to measure the precipitation is graduated The rain gage should be exposed in the open in inches. Dew and frost forming on from the atmosphere is deposited on the ground. Low bushes. In the last group precipitate by the ice-crystal process. melted and measured in the measuring tube to SUMMARY In this chapter we have learned that air drops or clumps of snowflakes. fences. The weight is recorded funnel top. Dew forms when air next to the process to begin at very high altitudes. vertical depth of the water or melted snow. clouds form by the condensation of water vapor. in which ground or to cold objects is chilled to the dew point case the hailstone grows as it falls through of the air. tenths. and hundredths. low clouds. Another type is the weighing- container with an 8-inch funnel at the top and a type gage which can be used for either snow or measuring tube inside. their altitude as high. more commonly. or frozen snow. of rain is indicated for each 0. which takes place on Clouds are classified according to their fine particles called condensation or sublimation structure as stratus or cumulus. rain. The top of the gage should container is used.01 of an inch of precipitation continuously in inches of water on a chart attached falls.01 inch away from large buildings or trees. Frost forms by sublimation unstable air.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

air and surface one region to another over the North American temperatures. evaporates and is absorbed by the atmosphere. we will learn how fire weather varies from precipitation. and cloudiness. In the final These moisture contents are influenced by chapter. and arrangement. as well as by Continent. wind.then the bound water held to the cell walls fuel factors such as surface to volume ratio. nature of the drying and wetting processes of dead We have now completed our discussion of the fuels is such that the moisture content of these individual fire-weather elements and their effect on fuels is strongly affected by weather changes. the moisture content of forest fuels. air moisture. The compactness. 195 .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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