FIRE
WEATHER
AGRICULTURE HANOBOOK 360

U.S. Department of Agriculture – Forest Service

FIRE WEATHER ...

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

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

and

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

MAY 1970

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

CONTENTS
Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

does not exist. Precipitation The launcher of a space missile must know. as far out as it is sun causes continual changes in each of the above known to exist. when atmosphere becomes extremely thin. it is the state The varying moods of the ever-changing weather of the atmosphere surrounding the earth. And sometimes it is oppressive with high humidities and high temperatures. the type of described in ways related to their influences on weather familiar to us. Pressure sometimes taking advantage of it and at other times Wind speed protecting ourselves and our property from it.a basis for judgment is formed. where the earth's miles above the land. tornadoes. V . At high altitudes. it the whole of the earth's atmosphere. with its clouds and wildland fire. But the found in the lower. and blizzards. Familiar terms Sometimes it becomes balmy with sunny days and used to describe weather are mild temperatures. action.INTRODUCTION What is WEATHER? Simply defined. causing death and So we can say that weather is concerned with the destruction in hurricanes. denser atmosphere affect all of atmosphere is not static-it is constantly changing. As the Temperature weather changes. the interrelated changes in weather in earth and rotating with it in space. Such is the case on the weather variations in the air layer up to 5 or 10 moon. But the man whose interest is wildland fire is neither limited to the surface nor concerned with Because weather is the state of the atmosphere. These variations are interdependent. fire weather is combined with the two other factors influencing fire behavior-topography and fuel . in order to make his decisions for elements. affecting all elements in such a manner that weather is ever changing in both time and space. When precipitation. us. from The atmosphere is a gaseous mantle encasing the hour to hour. constitute FIRE WEATHER. Sometimes it is violent. we change our activities. These variations. 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. changing nature of the atmosphere. Heat from the the total height of the atmosphere.

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

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

At atmospheric pressure.08 pounds These impurities affect the visibility through the at 32°F. In midlatitudes the 500 mb. however. the air is extremely rarefied. In addition to these gases. virtually nothing. or barometer. 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. for each 1.92 inches of mercury is equivalent to 1013. Thus.92 inches. Of the remainder. the troposphere contains a highly variable amount of water vapor-from near zero to 4 or 5 percent. or 34 mb.).Composition of the Troposphere Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases. At sea level.000 feet of altitude up to about 7.000 feet. 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. It has a profound effect on weather processes. the actual pressure can vary from 980 mb.01 percent. The normal value at sea level is 29.000 feet.7 pounds. . atmosphere averages 14. the rate of decrease becomes steadily less. While this is the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level. or less in low-pressure systems to 1050 mb. 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. Above about 7. and other industrial pollutants. smoke. Atmospheric pressure decreases with in- creasing altitude.03 percent.93 percent and carbon dioxide about 0. Traces of several other gases account for less than 0. or more in high-pressure systems. for without it there would be no clouds and no rain. Measured at successive heights. the outer limits of the atmosphere. contains many molecules and weighs 0. The atmospheric pressure then may be expressed in terms of the height of the column of mercury. the same as a 30-inch column of mercury of the same diameter. altitude. the weight of a column of air decreases with increasing altitude. Dry air consists of about 78 percent nitrogen by volume and about 21 percent oxygen.000 feet. Variations in the amount of water vapor influence the moisture content and flammability of surface containing only a few molecules and weighing fuels. A more common unit of pressure measurement used in meteorology is the millibar (mb. reading of 29. particles.25 mb. although not heavy compared with other normal pressure exerted by the atmosphere at sea familiar substances. A pressure. does have measurable mass level and is referred to as the standard and responds accordingly to the force of gravity. level is reached at an average altitude of about 18. nearly Air in the troposphere is composed mostly of two gases – nitrogen and half the weight of the atmosphere is below this oxygen. argon comprises about 0. or within about 3 1/2 miles of the surface. This is the Air. compressed by all the air above it.. a cubic The troposphere also contains salt and dust foot of air.

the or water to vapor). coldness of a substance. When the average molecular activity and is measured by a battery terminals are connected to a suitable thermometer on a designated scale. It cannot be Chemical energy can be transformed into electrical energy. mechanical energy (which may he either potential or kinetic). and the temperature rises. When a battery is connected to a motor. When change in physical structure (such as lee to water the terminals are connected to a resistor. All energy. but energy is always conserved in the process. chemical energy. again without a change in physical structure. between energy and mass does occur in atomic reactions. Losses caused by friction both the number of molecules and the degree of of the system appear in the form of heat energy. and nuclear energy. Temperature reflects the condition possesses chemical energy. This kinetic energy lifts the pendulum against the force of gravity on the Heat energy represents the total molecular energy upstroke. At the surface and the lower troposphere. chemical reaction produces electrical Fahrenheit scale or the Celsius scale. and the transformation back to the of a substance and is therefore dependent upon potential energy occurs. 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. Energy can be. the molecular activity decreases and the Energy is present in these various forms in temperature drops. Simply defined. whereas the pendulum or the storage battery. determined by the degree The common storage battery in charged of its molecular activity. conversion takes place. radiant energy. a pendulum has potential energy that is expended in the down stroke and converted Heat Energy and Temperature to kinetic energy. setting it in motion and making it work in many ways to create our ever- changing weather. and heat is exchanged between the earth's interchange of potential and kinetic energy. the energy may be in any one form or a combination of several forms. end of its swing. There are also atomic. a similar heat.ENERGY IN THE TROPOSHPERE Tremendous quantities of energy are fed into the troposphere. and are constantly undergoing con- . version from one form to another. although related The sun is the earth's source of heat and other to heat. as in the case of Kinetic energy is energy of motion. with respect to the earth's gravitational field. however. Temperature. molecular activity. If a substance loses When lightning starts forest fires. molecular. They are never in balance. At any time and place. and constantly is being. the molecular activity increases electrical energy is converted to thermal energy. such as the conductor. and electrical energy. the atmosphere. usually source is the radiant energy from the sun. energy is the capacity to do work. transformed from one form to another. comes either directly or indirectly from the sun. is defined as the degree of the hotness or forms of energy. Its more common forms are heat or thermal energy. energy. however. the electrical energy is converted to mechanical If heat is applied to a substance. which created nor destroyed. Their common potential energy is energy due to position. The Absorption of this energy warms the surface of the motion of a pendulum is a good example of the earth.

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

the temperature has neither capability.u. when 3 1/3 B. the resulting rise in temperature rises. 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. has decreases as the temperatures falls. lure the volume is fixed. the pressure increases as the different specific heats. cause one substance to get hotter than the other.t. 0. the as much as this exchange causes the water volume increases as the temperature rises. density.20. at- of the warmer substance. the volume or pressure of the gas. Thus. The temperature of the in liquids and solids.24. temperature cause significant changes in density With minor exceptions. The expansion and contraction of transfer from one substance to another. The ratio of the heat capacity of a substance to that of water is defined as the specific heat of the substance. equal. volume temperature to the one with the lower temperature. Thus. The change in been exchanged. In other words.45 and 0. if 1 pound mospheric processes do not occur under constant of water at 70°F. Either the pressure is constant and the specific heat 0. or both. Consequently. The amount of transferred from one substance to another. but the temperature changes of solids. ice.0-much higher than the specific heat of other common substances at atmospheric temperatures. large bodies of water can store large quantities of heat and therefore are great moderators of temperature. and decreases as the temperature falls. about 0.t. In this exchange of heat. while expansion or contraction depends on the size. the same amount of heat the temperature rises and decreases as the applied to equal masses of different substances will temperature falls.49.u. the pressure increases as molecular structures. the pound of water will have volume for equal temperature changes is much decreased 3 1/3°F.5. Rising expand when their molecular activity is increased by temperature is accompanied by a decrease in heating. at 60°F. If the pressure remains constant. the exchange of heat will volume changes. determines the direction of net heat substance.t. is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. is used in a thermometer to always flows from the substance with the higher measure temperature change. the specific heat of water is 1.. A unit of heat capacity used in the English system of measures is the British thermal unit (B. and falling temperature is accompanied by an increase in density. and the pound of gasoline will greater in gases under constant pressure than it is have increased 6 2/3°F. for example. and the kind of however. Thus. Heat and temperature differ in that heat can be They contract as the temperature falls. they have different heat capacities.u. For example. solids and liquids (mass per unit volume) of the gas. A change in temperature may change either the two are not necessarily equal. Heat liquid. If the Since different substances have different volume is held constant. changes with temperature. or both pressure and volume cause the temperature of the gasoline to rise twice change. If heat flows between two substances of If the volume of a gas is held constant. amount of temperature change. changes in mixture will then be 66 2/3°F. volume. and temperature to lower. 6 . For example. most woods have specific heats between 0.65.). temperature of the cooler substance will be different from the resulting decrease in temperature Since the atmosphere is not confined. Temperature. One B. is mixed with 1 pound of gasoline. 0. dry air. and dry soil and rock. but at any given and stops flowing when the temperatures are tempera. Thus. and the converted to other forms of energy and can be molecular activity decreases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. 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. This. an equally large amount of heat is liberated to warm the surface. if vapor condenses. conditions of daytime heating. This exchange is a continuous process. increasing evaporation from moist surfaces and thus restricting the temperature rise. a cold air mass will not reach as high a temperature 25 .t. which carries heat mass encounters. For example. the daytime heating and mixing are confined influence on surface temperatures. Thus when water is evaporated from a surface. We have seen that while 1 B. Then. Transfer of beat between the surface and the air is improved by mixing.u. will raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1°F. such as the oceans or the polar regions. when the body of air. nearly 1.000 are required to evaporate 1 pound of water under normal conditions of pressure and temperature. it gradually takes on the temperature and moisture characteristics of the underlying surface. cooling takes place at the surface with a corresponding reduction in the surface temperature. under the same away from warmed surfaces and lowers surface temperatures. called an air mass. it tends to retain these characteristics. The air-mass temperatures impose some restraint on the daily heating and cooling that the air Strong daytime winds cause turbulent. windiness has a moderating In a stable air mass. 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. is another reason why surfaces of moist substances have lower daytime temperatures than dry substances. moves away from this region. This air movement also transports moisture. to a shallow layer. which carries heat away from the heated surfaces. taking place everywhere at all times. although slow modification takes place during its travel. Effect of Wind Strong daytime winds near the surface tend to prevent high surface temperatures. and the temperature of this air will increase rapidly. Thus. then. mixing. 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. where some of the heat can be transferred to the ground by conduction.leased in condensation.

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

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

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

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

green highest daytime temperatures are found near the foliage does not warm up as much as ground or dry crown top. Above the tree crowns the temperature In all vegetative cover. the temperatures of the tree crown surfaces in contact leaves form a nearly continuous upper surface. the air contact surface. The behavior of a fire burning inversion top to lower over the middle of the valley. EFFECTS OF FORESTS ON TEMPERATURE NEAR THE GROUND In all situations. 30 . Maximum air temperatures near the crowns may be These effects result in less pronounced 180 to 200 warmer than air temperature near the temperature changes with height above the ground. nighttime temperatures are near the top of the Less dense vegetation will permit more solar brush or dense plant cover. second. the inversion layer Is com- valley bottom up the slopes may actually cause the pletely dissipated. The transport of air from the heating and mixing. place. vegetation moderates air the ground are not greatly different. leaf surfaces exchange heat with gradually between this level and the ground. air through a deeper. 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. such as low brush.upslope winds begin. it intercepts both incoming and nearly continuous cover and the canopy thus outgoing radiation and therefore has a marked becomes. Air in the crown region had higher daytime temperatures near the tops of the crowns. and this surface acts as the effective ground surface. This is because the the vegetation. the temperature decreases fairly rapidly with height. although temperatures radiation to penetrate to the ground than will a near dense cover. less restricted boundary layer. where the principal radiation takes than air beneath the crowns. and the temperature will decrease litter. and with the air are lower than bare ground. and third. beneath an inversion may change abruptly Finally. First. The effect on ground temperature. temperatures within the vegetative layer for several The crowns of trees in a heavy forest form a reasons. in effect. with continued when the inversion is destroyed. With plants. although never distribution depends upon the nature and density of as rapidly as over bare ground. because the air circulation around these surfaces is The maximum daytime temperatures and minimum better.

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

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

Chapter 3

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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

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

ATMOSPHERIC MOISTURE

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

WATER VAPOR IN THE ATMOSPHERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dew Point

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

and pressure is 0.110 .028 . the vapor pressure. 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.24.248 . The absolute humidity Dew point Vapor pressure Absolute humidity (temperature) (saturation) (saturation) (Pounds per M (°F.739 1. Because of vapor pressure of 0.279 40 . and the actual vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure.051 0 .081 10 . Under favorable fire weather.754 37 . The actual vapor Table 2. and a instead of dew point in the first column. of the amount of moisture in a volume of air.019 -20 . temperature must be kept in mind.032 1.071 . It ranges from 100 percent at saturation atmospheric pressure.032 inches of mercury.125 20 . conducive to low fire ordinary circumstances the actual vapor pressure danger.011 -30 . Therefore.933 2. dew point.) (Inches of Hg. such volume of air to the total amount which that volume as pounds per 1.006 0. a very useful measure of Absolute Humidity atmospheric moisture is the relative humidity. Relative humidity on the actual amount of water vapor in the air. 50° is the atmospheric moisture at any time or place.409 50 .010 .) cubic feet) -40 0.362 inches of mercury.149 80 1.017 . saturation. that is. At depends on the actual moisture content of the air. . Less favorable are conditions of cannot exceed the saturation vapor pressure by unsaturation.575 Relative humidity decreases as temperature increases even 90 1. temperature. It is The actual amount of water vapor in a given the ratio. If the air is cooled below its dew point. we find that the saturation vapor uration values of vapor pressure and absolute pressure for 800 is 1.844 110 2.522 . Therefore. the actual vapor pressure will equal the Air temperature and dew point accurately define saturation vapor pressure. to 500. Relative humidity is also the ratio of among the dew point. the temperature of the dew Referring to table 1. we find that if the air is cooled point is a convenient unit of measure for moisture. We humidity can be obtained by entering temperature can compute the actual vapor pressure by multiplying 1. in percent.166 . vapor pressure. the vapor pressure is the saturation vapor pressure. the weight per volume. increasing their flammability and the fire danger.045 . and the pressure. Suppose that we Table 2 shows the relationship among these have air at 800F.597 3.585 60 .198 30 .000 cubic feet. which permit evaporation from forest more than a very small amount. 100 1.Dew point.131 though the amount of water vapor in the air remains the some.consider air with a temperature of 80°F. each of these depends only to near zero for very dry air. these relationships. and 24 percent relative humidity. Using table 2. is called the can hold at the given temperature and atmospheric absolute humidity. A direct relationship exists pressure.362 . and the absolute humidity is the The dependence of relative humidity on saturation absolute humidity.031 -10 . at constant times 100. Sat. that is.032 by 0.827 70 .422 2. three measures of atmospheric moisture. fuels. absolute humidity because.248 rounded off. the dew point is the same as the the temperature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VEGETATION. We saturation level. depending greatly on the topography. Although we know that this may not be air. With similar exposure at night. speeds reach about 8 miles per hour. ³Estimated heated intensely. largely because of the temperature decreases. if disappear. dew will form on the surface . . In relatively flat to rolling terrain. Relative Height of Dew humidity. using a dry-bulb instrument shelter. clear skies. 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. particularly in unshaded areas 1 inch ¹140 ³56 ³8 where soil and surface fuels exposed to the sun are ¹Observed. cumulative drying tends to even out these differences since stored moisture in the surface is depleted. circulation and mixing are usually sufficient to smooth out local effects over relatively short distances.indicating 100 tables. must assume that the clew point is the same at These conditions are typical for relatively still both levels. CLOUDS. the effects of elevation and aspect become important. EFFECTS OF TERRAIN. the humidity differences between the two levels tend to disappear because the principal radiating surface is above both levels. and shelter-height humidities. an inversion is present. in shaded woods. At night. WIND. the humidity can be estimated from percent relative humidity-when the humidity at psychrometric readings at the standard height and shelter height may be considerably below the a dry-bulb temperature reading at the surface. the humidity measured at a well-exposed station may be quite representative of a fairly large area. then changes little or increases slightly with elevation. Also. When wind exact. temperature of 140°F. As the season progresses.in the same air mass types as they do in spring and fall. There will be local exceptions along streams. AND AIR MASS CHANGES Humidity may vary considerably from one spot to another. the ground with field instruments. relative humidity decreases up the slope to the top of the inversion. or in barren areas. it has a much lower relative humidity. but because it is much warmer. South slopes also are more advanced seasonally than north slopes. and open exposure. In the daytime particularly. but with the aid of Often. irrigated fields. using table 4. and a dew point of 56°F. Low elevations warm up and dry out earlier in the spring than do high elevations. relative humidity usually increases upward along slopes. it will give a reasonable estimation. and warm the air surrounding them. under heavy for a pressure of 29 inches: cloud cover or shade. In mountainous topography. and humidities vary more than over gentle terrain. but the differences do not During daytime. 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. ²Calculated. The relative humidity that affects fuels on the Measurement Dry-bulb Wet-bulb point percent forest floor is of ten quite different from that in the 4 ½ feet ¹80 ¹65 ²56 ²45 instrument shelter. the increased mixing diminishes the difference between surface Consider the following example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5°F. per 1.5°F. let us consider (C) where the parcel is its point of origin when the external force is embedded in a layer that has a measured lapse removed. say dry-adiabatic rate indicated on the chart by red 1.000 feet of altitude. The and compare its temperature with that of its damping action in either case indicates stability. a lowered parcel colder and more dense than its environment.5°F... the where the temperature increases at the rate of 3°F. the parcel warms at rate of 5.5° rate.000 feet. At 1.000 feet. for example. it thus becomes progressively lifting force is removed. its temperature will decrease 5.000 feet.000 feet and 50°F. At will become warmer than the surrounding air and 5. while the temperature of the surrounding air will be The sounding plotted in (A) has a lapse rate of 3°F.000 feet.. Moved downward. . Buoyancy purposes. colder 3. the same as the dry adiabatic rate and becomes warmer than its In unsaturated air. arrows. let us select a parcel of air at this point forces the parcel back up to its original level. As the parcel is lifted and and will return to its original level as soon as the cools at its 5.000 feet. Thus. Similarly.000 feet to be 50°F. The reaction of a parcel to lifting or lowering may be examined by comparing its temperature (red arrows for parcel initially at 3. higher. Gravity thus returns the parcel to Next. inversions 39°F.) to the temperature of its environment. the parcel accompanying illustration that each shows the temperature would be 61°F. would be 43°F. the stability can be determined by comparing the measured lapse rate (solid black lines) to the dry-adiabatic lapse rate (dashed black lines). The parcel will then be 8. for example. its temperature would be will also return to its original level. Note also in the environment. environment as the parcel is raised or lowered by The parcel in (B) is initially in an inversion layer external forces. per 1. but the temperature of the surrounding air at any altitude are very stable. For our the environment would be only 57°F. If the parcel is lifted. If it remains unsaturated. but the temperature of temperature at 3.grammatically by a solid black line.5°F. parcel will change in temperature at the per 1.

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

The unstable. One exceeds the environment temperature. plus the colder temperature aloft. It is unstable with respect to a lifted saturated parcel. the parcel temperature will is 80°F. because the temperature of the saturated parcel would follow the lesser moist-- adiabatic rate. In our example. surface 62° dew point. Above this level. The altitude of the point is thus at the condensation The atmosphere illustrated by the above level. A saturated parcel in free convection loses additional moisture by condensation as it rises. in this case about 2.5°F. It is stable with respect to a lifted air atmosphere is stable at this point because the parcel parcel as long as the parcel remains unsaturated. The level at which the parcel becomes indicate that the parcel is initially unsaturated. continuing meanwhile decreases. starting at the requiring an external lifting force. we find that this line intersects the fty-adiabatic path of the parcel. follow the dry-adiabatic rate until saturation. depending on the temperature structure of the air aloft.5°F. The parcel Conditional Instability temperature at this point is therefore at the dew point. example. and the dew point is 62°. of these. in this case about 2. as we learned in chapter 3. the parcel will begin free ascent. It is true that from the A lapse rate between the dry. at the rate of 1°F. At start with a parcel at sea level where the temperature this rate of change. stable with respect to a lifted parcel as long as the parcel temperature follows the dry-adiabatic rate. however. At the level where the parcel temperature sumptions upon which the method is founded. condensation occurs at 4. plotted on the accompanying chart.5°F. temperature is lower than that but it is unstable with respect to a lifted parcel that has become saturated.000 feet.000 feet. reach the temperature of the surrounding air at The 80°F. it then cools at the moist-adiabatic showing a temperature lapse rate of 4. is that there is no 54 . however. the measured lapse rate of the layer is 4. therefore. The parcel dew-point temperature become buoyant and accelerate upward.and moist-adiabatic rates is plotted temperature lapse rates on the adiabatic conditionally unstable.000 feet. We will rate. causes the moist-adiabatic lapse rate to increase toward the dry-adiabatic rate. Reliance on the parcel method of analyzing atmospheric stability must be tempered with considerable judgment. the parcel will saturation occurs. is said to be conditionally feet above sea level at a temperature of 58°. This may be in the vicinity of the tropopause or at some lower level.000 dry and moist adiabats. then follow the These are based.5°F.the dry-adiabatic and moist-adiabatic lines shown on shown by the sounding for the surrounding air. it will cool at the dry-adiabatic rate until of free convection. This. and no longer the adiabatic chart with a slope of -1°F. For this example. If we draw a line on to cool at the moist-adiabatic rate. If the adiabatic chart. assume a the parcel is forced to rise above the condensation sounding. per 1. This layer is. The temperature of a parcel raised from near the surface will peratures of parcels and the surrounding air.000 feet. which has a lapse rate lying between the In our example. temperature and 62° dew point 6. level. per 1. because it would be unstable under chart one can read differences between tem- saturated conditions but stable under unsaturated conditions. As the warmer than the surrounding air is called the level parcel is lifted. per 1. on the initial as- moist-adiabatic rate. The rising parcel will thus eventually cool to the temperature of the surrounding air where the free convection will cease. for example.

or 66°F. If the layer is initially stable. The usual vironment.5 X 12.5 / 3. are weather 5.000 feet after lifting. The layer stretches vertically as it is lifted. If no part of the layer reaches condensation. or 4.5°F. These are additional surrounding air.000 feet. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. the difference between the bottom and related to atmospheric stability judged by the parcel top was 7°F. often reasons for considering stability in a relative sense accompanied by various degrees of mixing and rather than in absolute terms. Similarly.000 to 8. However. Vertical motion is. If the air in the layer remained unsaturated.000 feet. it is necessary to employ some Occasionally.000 feet deep at its new altitude and the top would be at 20. but after lifting it would be 66 . The temperature of the top of the layer would have decreased 5.5°F. however. a 60. it is 12. the stable layer will eventually become dry-adiabatic. Let us consider an example: We will begin with a layer extending from 6. are summarized below.energy exchange between the parcel and the also detracts from precision. stable. Because of the vertical stretching upon reaching lower pressures. or becomes increasingly less stable as it is lifted. per 1. however. Equally important. Whereas the original lapse changes that occur when whole layers of the rate was 3. and the assumption that the adiabatic condensation level early in the lift- processes still apply. and the dew-point temperature of the practice of plotting the significant turning points from parcel used in this example. it bottom of the layer would have decreased 5.000 feet. its temperature would have decreased at the dry-adiabatic rate. When an entire layer of stable air is lifted it becomes increasingly less stable. and raise it until its base is at 17. it is often possible to employ these concepts with somewhat greater confidence here than in the case of parcel-stability analyses. per 1.5°F. which makes this The temperature of the parcel and the en- assumption only an approximation. with the top rising farther and cooling more than the bottom. attendant energy exchange. atmosphere of some measurable depth and of per 1. greater.2°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.5°F.000 feet with a lapse rate of 3.5°F. The layer has become less considerable horizontal extent are raised or lowered. The temperature of the A lifted layer of air stretches vertically..5 = method. or 12.60. Here again. 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. subsidizing layer becomes more stable. Let us first examine how the stability of an air layer changes internally as the layer is lifted or lowered.5 X 11. the layer would be about 3. 55 .000 feet.

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

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

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

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

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

would then be less than 2 percent. Along the west coast in summer we generally Subsiding air may reach the surface at times find a cool. Thus. Even with considerable gain in layer of air above it.000 feet in 6 hours around the pressure systems as part of the return circulation 30. and about 500 feet in 6 hours at compensating for the large upward transport of air the 6.000-foot level. The accompanying chart shows a simplified This process can well take place in other illustration of the subsidence inversion on 3 regions when the subsidence inversion reaches low-enough levels so it can be eliminated by . The higher topographic adiabatically is so pronounced that saturated air. The temperature lapse rate from the place. In lowering to the surface.02 pounds per 1. It is typically fastest at higher levels and characteristic of warm Highs. identify the troposphere when the high-pressure systems are base of a subsiding layer. or higher. 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. Below the inversion. is less than 0. becomes progressively slower near the surface. Often. or even higher. deep. this air may broad layer. in adjacent low-pressure areas. For example. a from the upper troposphere may reach the sounding will show two or more inversions with very surface quite warm and extremely dry. As the marine layer moves inland from the coast during clear summer days. The warming and drying of air sinking extend up into the dry air.15 pounds or more of to consider ways in which the dry air no longer water per 1. therefore. it sinks to the lower reach a temperature of 70°F.000-foot level. We need. drying. dry air from the top down to the lowest inversion. This subsidence inversion is moisture. and its them. the final relative humidity can be quite usually low enough so that coastal mountains low. or surface to the base of the dry air. The temperature lapse rate in the areas results in sinking of the atmosphere above descending layer is nearly dry-adiabatic. the air beneath must flow outward. Two features. In order for the sinking motion to take wiped out. Because of the warming and occurs during the daytime with upslope winds. This sinking from aloft is the common bottom surface is marked by a temperature form of subsidence. upper-air soundings. of -50° to -60°F. Then. is commonly about 5. saturation would represent 1. subsiding air is characteristically very clear and cloudless. diverge.000 cubic feet. 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. elevations will experience warm temperatures and sinking from even the middle troposphere to near very low humidities both day and night. inversion. It Subsidence occurs in these warm high. and subsidence through a deep layer is widely. the relative humidity surface. Some sea level.000 Subsiding air seldom reaches the surface as a cubic feet. high-pressure systems are referred to as warm The rate of descent of subsiding air varies Highs. 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. air successive stages. 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. If no moisture were lowering steadily over a broad area can affect the added to the air in its descent. will produce relative humidities of less mixing of moisture upward along the slopes usually than 5 percent.000-2.outflow at the surface from these high-pressure successive days. Deep air. humid advected marine layer with only very little external modification or addition 1. convective currents integral part of subsidence in the troposphere. When this happens.000 feet thick with a warm. dry subsiding of moisture. where troposphere and then stops. the subsiding air seems to lower in takes place without much horizontal mixing. a temperature inversion The sinking motion originates high in the and a marked decrease in moisture. If the subsidence Frequently. horizontal divergence is an becomes dry-adiabatic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we need to pressure about latitude 30°N. balancing the weight of the atmosphere against that which remain relatively fixed. Its position around the hemisphere is in this region is usually best developed over the extremely variable. and widespread shower activity. polar front zone. trade winds. prevailing westerlies. Instead we find pressure cells-areas with the force of gravity acting on this mass. and the doldrum belt moves north from the Equator. It is a region of light surface winds. and the cold polar air penetrates to fairly low latitudes in a "polar outbreak". heat energy is carried northward by the airflow aloft. Another type 72 . little cloudiness. The polar front Near latitude 30°N. This is done with a mercurial barometer. and polar easterlies. high pressure in the polar region. considerable cloudiness. and its position is extremely variable. cloudiness. cloudiness. and little outbreaks. However. These are known as: Doldrums. between the prevailing westerlies and polar air and high pressures known m the horse latitudes.. others are migratory. and As we will see later. in the Northern Hemisphere and southeast trades particularly to the meandering stream of westerly in the Southern Hemisphere. is a zone of storminess. The high-pressure areas are characterized southward into middle latitudes with cold air by light variable winds. a band of high understand and predict the weather. PRESSURE PATTERNS The simple primary circulation described above The weather is closely related to these pressure should result in a band of low pressure around the cells and other pressure patterns. and cold air moves southward in cold outbreaks to maintain a balance of energy between equatorial and polar regions. Sometimes it plunges far oceans. easterlies mentioned earlier. it becomes the The belt of westerlies extends from about "breeding ground" for tropical storms and 30°N. higher or lower pressure than the surrounding Atmospheric pressure can be measured by region. of a column of mercury. Some of these are semi permanent cells. Between the doldrums and the horse with intrusions of tropical air to high latitudes. it does in the summer and early fail. In this simplified circulation system. if we Atmospheric pressure was introduced to us in study the distribution of pressure over the Northern chapter 1. as precipitation. North of here are the polar hurricanes. the polar front zone is pushed southward. a band of low determine the distribution of atmospheric pressure in the polar front zone.mass becomes great enough. and an area of pressure. at other times it is carried far northward rainfall. horse latitudes. This primary circulation system results in the formation of several well-defined major regional circulation patterns or wind belts. We learned that the atmosphere has Hemisphere we do not find the bands to be entirely mass and that atmospheric pressure is the result of uniform. The equatorial region of warm and moist rising air currents is referred to as the doldrums. We latitudes is the belt of trade winds-northeast trades will see later that it is tied to the circulation aloft. If we are to earth in the equatorial region. When The polar front zone is an area of storminess. the high atmospheric pressure precipitation. to about 55°N. is a region of descending zone. some of which we have already mentioned. winds in the upper troposphere. easterlies.

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

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

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

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

that is. For steady motion there must be a balance One other characteristic difference also exists. that Highs have low wind speeds and the centrifugal force is. and movement. because of the balance of forces there is force balances the sum of the Coriolis and a limiting value of wind speed that cannot be centrifugal forces. The resulting bal- gradients and increased air speeds may occur as anced motion is a flow directed slightly across the center is approached. If the forces around a High are diagrammed. We can have. curved flow at levels high enough in the atmos- In both low.three forces are in balance. In spite of this.to low-pressure areas. a reduction in the pressure gradient. and of ten the isobars from high to low pressure. We find. we must account for the friction force. we find higher wind speed because of friction produces a wind speeds in Lows because the pressure reduction in the Coriolis force. and the Coriolis force is directed Friction inward. air near the surface flows from high. exceeded as the center is approached. the phere so that the force of friction could be speed of the wind increases with increased disregarded. the wind speed in a direction opposite to the airflow. This means that the sum of the pressure-gradient and centrifugal forces balances So far we have considered straight flow and the Coriolis force. with closer spacing of the the ground. centrifugal. the removal of air from High centers requires downward displacement of air. friction is a force acting in a subtracted from it in a Low. therefore. 77 . among the pressure-gradient. ness of the terrain and will vary from 10 to 15 degrees over water to 25 to 45 degrees over “Back to the wind. Because the centrifugal force is added to The effect of friction on airflow is to retard the the pressure-gradient force in a High.and high-pressure systems. Because of friction. But when we consider airflow near pressure gradient. isobars. and friction forces. outward. The do observe. Air accumulated near the surface in low centers is forced aloft. very strong wind speeds near the amount of deviation depends upon the rough- center of Lows. high pressure on the right” is a useful rule. In a High. still directed weak pressure gradients near their centers. Since the Coriolis High will be greater than in a Low with the same force varies with the wind speed. gradients are usually much stronger. In a low-pressure system. But now the pressure gradient force is directed outward. the pressure-gradient however. Therefore. of course. increased pressure Coriolis.

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

It meanders in a wavelike pattern as part of the general westerly flow. as did the developed. the jet stream is found only in those trough position. it is stronger in some places than others. 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. When more than one jet stream occurs. the exact positions are usually obscured by short Cold polar Highs moving south. Closed circulations are sometimes found within the troughs and ridges aloft. It is usually 100 to 400 miles wide and 3.p. and occasionally in short-wave troughs. It rarely encircles the entire hemisphere as a continuous river of air. 79 .h. Short waves are indistinct in the long-wave ridge position in the Gulf of Alaska. Short-wave upper troposphere is concentrated in the jet-stream troughs. shown by dashed lines. which moved. The short waves are at the beginning of this chapter).is the second method of transporting the wind speed aloft. Thus. These two 500 mb. Closed Lows may be found in long-wave troughs. but develop as they move out of the trough. it is found in segments 1. pattern. which proceed through the long wave short-wave ridges.the Highs The speed of the short waves is usually slower than and Lows . Like the polar front. The migration of large-scale eddies . what one sees are side of long-wave troughs.000 to 7.000 miles long. usually on the west waves.000 to 3. illustrate short wave The north-south temperature gradient in the moving through the long-wave pattern. The long-wave latitudes is west to east. long-wave ridge. charts.000 feet deep. rapidly moving applies to long-wave ridge positions and oscillations. Below the one. are indistinct in the long-wave trough. Jet Stream Within the belt of westerlies there is often a core of very strong winds. the principal one is the polar-front jet stream associated with the surface polar front. which extends into Northern Mexico. shown by solid lines. In fact. from the southwest and Northern Mexico into the Mississippi Valley. Generally. The same Short waves are smaller. This fast-flowing river of air near the tropopause has wind speeds of 50 to 150 or 200 m. the short-wave troughs and ridges. They move northward around long-wave ridges and southward through long wave troughs. 12 hours apart. trough positions are usually identified by the place where short-wave troughs deepen. called a jet stream. and their movement is about the same latitudes on the east side of long-wave troughs are speed as the surface systems. Long waves cannot be shown by lines because The Lows eventually dissipate at high latitudes. More frequently. indicating that the air moves excess heat away from lower latitudes (mentioned through the waves. tend to deepen in the long-wave region. Short-wave areas where a marked temperature gradient has ridges. eventually merge with semi-permanent Highs in the horse latitudes. Contours may indicate a closed High in a large-amplitude. effective in pulling warm tropical air far north ahead of them and cold polar air far south behind them.the principal movement of Highs and Lows in mid. The cyclonically associated with migratory Lows and Highs at the rotating Lows in their travel from lower to higher surface.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the forenoon in the western Coast Ranges. The flow becomes spiral because the the vortex. some triggering action must occur within the layer even in calm air. triggering action is the upward deflection of the establishing strong convective circulations. paragraph is called the autoconvective lapse rate. However. dust. the stronger the always observed in water draining from a wash whirl. One common superheated air rises in columns or chimneys. but usually a triggering 122 . The westerly flow increases. drawing in hot air from the surface layer. convergence zone and the easterly upslope winds. often acquires a lapse rate of 0.2°F. The provide the initial impulse upward. Updrafts can also begin common indications of intense local heating. WHIRLWINDS Whirlwinds or dust devils are one of the most action initiates the updraft. In this case. it temporarily rides over the east-facing canyons. The equilibrium. air near the ground rate. and becomes buoyant only if it is instability is then so extreme that overturning can lifted. The stronger the updraft. If waves with suitable length and amplitude two flows meet in a convergence zone on the west side. The whirl becomes visible if the updraft becomes Greater instability than this may create updrafts strong enough to pick up sand. but usually this is weak and spiral is analogous to the whirlpool effect nearly invisible. 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. with superadiabatic lapse rates. much the same as the invariably off balance. The whirling motion intensifies as the horizontal flow toward the base is almost air flows toward the center. The some whirling motion. autoconvective but greater than the dry-adiabatic Under intense heating. per 10 feet quiet surface air actually remains in vertical which is about 3½times the dry-adiabatic rate. An It is probable that nearly all updrafts have upward-spiraling motion usually develops. strong winds blow down the east slopes and westerly flow aloft develops. because a larger volume of air is drawn into basin. or other spontaneously. They if the layer acquires only a super-adiabatic lapse occur on hot days over dry terrain when skies are rate. a lapse rate less than the clear and general winds are light. local winds tend On some afternoons the convergence zone moves east as the to be upslope and upcanyon on both the east and west sides. that is. If a form in the flow aloft. and surface wind by an obstacle.

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

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

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

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

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

AIR MASSES AND FRONTS

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

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

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

FORMATION AND MODIFICATION OF AIR MASSES

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

129

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

surfaces and falling snow or hail; and (c)

AIR-MASS WEATHER

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

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

131

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

THUNDERSTORMS

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

CONDITIONS NECESSARY FOR THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT

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

167

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

168

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

THERMODYNAMICS OF THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPMENT

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

169

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

170

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

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

This occurs roughly 10 to 15 minutes after to downdraft is progressive. The downdraft appears the cell has built upward beyond the freezing level. sometimes as much as 25°F. 173 . begins when rain starts falling out of the base of the cloud. Below the cloud. Here. the most active portion of the thunderstorm Because the outflowing air is cold and heavy. this rain reaches the ground. The air being dragged downward by the under arid conditions or with high-level falling rain becomes cooler and heavier than the thunderstorms.000 or 60. may reinforce each other. the storm’s movement opposes the outflow and makes it much less pronounced. This joining may strengthen the inflow at the surface and cause the As raindrops and ice particles fall. the convection change in the circulation within the cell takes from the fire may join with the updraft and they place.inturning of winds forming the area of convergence tropopause and reaching to 50. cycle.” As this initial surge strikes an area it causes a sharp change in wind direction and an increase in speed. surrounding air. the downward rush of cool air decreases somewhat. than the air surrounding the cell. The visible cloud top flattens and spreads into the growing cloud above.p. The pressure is colder. 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.p. If such a cloud with laterally into the familiar “anvil” top. The updraft at the center feeds or higher. and the downdraft and a sharp rise in surface pressure. The updraft is wormer. The mature stage. the storm’s movement is added to the speed of the outflow. they drag fire to become active.. Melting of ice and evaporation of raindrops extent that they can no longer be supported by the cool the descending air. thus accelerating its downward Raindrops and ice particles have grown to such an fall. The change from updraft updraft. Except remainder.h. but intense. The downdraft becomes most pronounced near the bottom of the cell cloud where the cold air appears to cascade downward.000 feet under the updraft. in the lower 5.000 feet or so above the ground. cold front.000 or 35. 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. usually rising to 25. updraft in the remainder. frequently referred to as the “first gust. To the rear. This horizontal outflow of air produces a strong and highly turbulent surge. There is a downdraft in part of the cell and an temperature drop. to start first near the freezing level and spreads The convection cell reaches its maximum height in both horizontally and vertically.000 continues in its decreasing portion of the cloud and feet and occasionally breaking through the often reaches its greatest strength early in the mature stage. The effect of a fiat ground surface is to force the downdraft to pile up and spread out horizontally as a small. which may exceed 50 m. The updraft the mature stage. Usually it is not so strong as the updraft. but may reach 30 m. This wind discontinuity is most pronounced on the forward side of the thunderstorm.h. The speed of the downdraft within the cell varies. A marked its updraft passes over a going fire. remains high as long as the dome of cold air is over an area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

WEATHER AND FUEL MOISTURE

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

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

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

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

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

182

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

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

182

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

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

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

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

This size and other factors of fuels. the timelag principle is a useful method of particles.2. the duration of these proaches the equilibrium value vary not only with time periods is a property of the fuel and is referred the kind of fuel material. the rate of wetting timelag periods are used.7183.63 of the departure from for most fire-weather purposes it is satisfactory to equilibrium. however.63 x 22. percent relative humidity. For extremely fine fuels the average period may be a matter of 188 . the rate of increase or decrease is 10 times 0. According to this principle. percent is exposed in an environment in which the equilibrium moisture content is 5. Similarly. common to a variety of natural phenomena. logarithms. 2. At the end of the first fuel moisture is 10 percent from its equilibrium timelag period. For any one fuel particle with a moisture expressing fuel-moisture responses if average content below fiber saturation. ranges of humidity and temperature encountered in If a fuel is exposed in an atmosphere of nature. or drying by vapor exchange is theoretically proportional to the difference between the actual To illustrate the moisture response. let us moisture content and the equilibrium moisture assume that a fuel with a moisture content of 28 content for the current environmental conditions. This relationship indicates that 13. or equilibrium. as liquid water is not present on the surface of the fuels. Different fuel types usually into periods in which the moisture change will be have different equilibrium moisture contents. but the fraction (1—1/e)~ 0. To it. for example. Under standard conditions.6 percent. Although the successive characteristics such as fuel size and shape. 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. we must also add the effect of size or thickness of the fuel in question. The This means. reduced to about 8.5 percent. or about 14. is the base of natural use the average determined for a number of fuels. e. and to a lesser a logarithmic rather than a straight-line path as long extent on temperature. the time changing rates at which equilibrium is approached required for it to reach equilibrium may be divided from both directions. and the relative The average timelag period varies with the moisture stress in the direction of equilibrium. 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. Continuous or periodic weighing shows the constant temperature and humidity. this difference would be reduced value.2 percent.5. and the time-lag periods for a particular fuel are not exactly compactness or degree of aeration of a mass of fuel equal. defined as constant 80°F. but with other to as the timelag period. by itself. and so on.8 percent. is a poor indicator of the quantitative rate of moisture-content change. 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. at the end of the second moisture content approaching equilibrium follows timelag period the moisture content would be an inverse logarithmic path. The moisture as rapid as if the moisture were within 1 percent content of this fuel would then be 28 —14. The symbol. moisture is increasing or decreasing under a particular environmental situation.5 percent. that when actual difference is 22. temperature and 20 The rates at which moisture content ap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The icy waters of Baffin Bay have a the coastal strip. high around 30°N. here as they affect the North American Continent. the true of Hudson Bay during the winter months. and Gulf of between the adjacent warm Pacific and Gulf Mexico are important sources of warm. where it divides. but the effects do not extend far restricted. Influences of the Oceans Influences of the warm Gulf Stream. region for dry polar continental air. low in 199 . and the Rocky Mountain development of storms. which flows The Pacific Ocean has a strong maritime in. Sierra-Cascade. ranges in the United States and Canada. being largely frozen. PRESSURE AND GENERAL CIRCULATION The general features of the hemispheric the Polar Front zone around 55° or 60°N. 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. Labrador and as far south as Nova Scotia.protected from maritime influence by the western Puget Sound. The the absence of any major east-west mountain southern branch becomes the California Current ranges across the continent. The Sierra Madre Oriental limits strong cooling influence on temperatures in the surface effects of Gulf air to the coastal plan. while the Arctic continental air and is less influenced by the Ocean. 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. effect on regional climate. We will review them briefly provinces). The Sierra Madre Occidental in the west inland because the prevailing air movement is limits the surface effects of Pacific maritime air to offshore. Mexico to flow northward. 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. along the Horse from the Atlantic and Gulf between the Tropics Latitudes (equivalent to Northern Mexico). northward near the southeast coast. interior of Northern Mexico is little affected by The Atlantic Ocean influences the climate of polar continental air. Maritime influence is also the east coast. the climate becomes warm and humid. Upon leaving the source regions. The northern branch mountain chains. affecting both summer and winter climates of much of the eastern part of the continent. (the pressure zones and wind circulation patterns were latitude of the northern portion of the Canadian discussed in chapter 5. The As Mexico’s land mass narrows toward the south Southwest Atlantic. Caribbean Sea. The southflowing cold flowing southward along the west coast. The lack of mountain barriers warm waters of the North Pacific are the source of also allows warm. moist air waters. is a principal source mountain systems. and high in the polar 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. The relatively the Gulf of Mexico. However. This warm air The Bering Sea also contributes some constitutes a somewhat deeper layer than the moisture for winter precipitation. The same is Because of its generally high elevation. It often reaches and sometimes crosses the coast in both summer and winter. 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. this influence extends prevailing westerly winds. do not fluence on the whole length of the western shore of ordinarily extend far inland because of the North America. 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 Brooks Range in northern pressure and wind systems move somewhat north Alaska is a local barrier against them in that area. the west coast is more patterns is the distribution of land and water strongly influenced by the adjacent ocean than the surfaces. As far south. The coldest western mountain ranges also influences the mean temperatures are found in the region between temperature pattern. Hudson Bay and northern Alaska. the pattern. The annual range of mountain ranges. 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. mean temperatures east coast. 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. 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. In between summer and winter there are shift from generally southwesterly to northwest and wide variations in circulation over the continent. These centers move southward at intervals as An intense heat Low in summer in the waves or surges of cold north wind. During the transition from winter TEMPERATURE VARIATIONS Temperatures vary with the intensity of solar east and west coasts than they are in the interior. 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. The blocking effect of the high temperatures below freezing. there is a close These differences are more marked at higher relationship between average temperatures and latitudes than at lower latitudes. coasts. north. an area a few In the summer. The effect elevation area many hundreds of miles farther of the lesser angle of the sun’s rays in the northern north. With the northward develop over land during the winter. with their clockwise airflow. temperature between winter and summer is greater In January. 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 .and 30°N. movement of the Pacific High during the spring. High-pressure centers tend to portions of the continent. in summer. these high-pressure systems gradually between 30°N. and the Polar Front zone. decreases with height. almost all of the interior of in the interior of the continent than over the Canada and the Northern United States have mean adjacent oceans. Another major influence on temperature west-to-east airflow. radiation at the earth’s surface. Because of this. latitudes is partially offset by the longer days there. and low. By full summer. among other and higher along the west coast than the east coast. The Pacific and Azores—Bermuda high-pres- Over the North American Continent the sure systems. factors. At any given latitude. they are prevalent only seasonal heating and cooling change. The Great Lakes A third major influence on temperature is have a slight moderating effect on the temperature elevation because. and the Central and Eastern United States. and (3) weaken. In the general latitude. these in Northern Canada. pressure centers tend to develop there during the prevailing winds along the west coast gradually summer. Thus.. In addition. and the cold north winds do not penetrate polar easterlies north of the Polar Front zone. domi- pressure zones are not as persistent as over the nate the summertime wind pattern over large adjacent oceans. (2) prevailing westerlies off the Pacific to summer. as we learned in chapter 1. this area shows slightly higher mean temperature through the troposphere usually temperatures than points to the east or west. and south again in winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the mountains 218 . temperatures can be quite low in whiter storms which move northeastward along the coast. from north to south. There is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and often is cool a slight maximum during the summer and a slight and foggy. however. and quite high in summer. The Northwest Canadian High synoptic type is least frequent in summer and most frequent in winter. In winter the air mass is so cold. On occasion. but high fire danger can occur on any side of the High. and is from over the ocean. to influence this region. a Low moving along the coast brings in moist air with totals of 40 to 50 inches. and warms by subsidence and passage over warmer land as it moves to lower latitudes. Storms moving into weather systems is from west to east. the cyclonic circulation around The annual precipitation is moderate to heavy. The north and northwest sides are most critical. In the second case. As shown on this sea- level chart. that fire danger is low. a dry cP air mass from Northwest Canada moves southeastward under meridional flow aloft. For precipitation on the east side of the mountains as this reason. The highest fire danger is produced in spring and fall. mP air In the first case. It can affect all regions east of the Rockies. But because the general movement of minimum during the spring. 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. the descending flow on the east from the Atlantic moves sufficiently southwestward side of the mountains diminishes the precipitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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