Wildfire forecasting complicated by its ‘own’ weather

Wildfire forecasting complicated by its ‘own’ weather

21 March 2011

published by www.kwgn.com

USA — One of the biggest challenges faced when fighting a wildfire is trying to forecast the weather conditions both around and inside the flames.

On the site of each fire, meteorologists spend countless hours studying how winds interact with the atmosphere.

But it can be difficult to interpret since there are typically no weather stations operating from within the fire zone.

Often forecasters rely on computer models to help interpret what may be happening inside the fire.

Past research has shown that wind speeds can reach up to 10 times stronger inside the wall of flames than the winds outside.

Stronger fires often create unique winds, or weather patterns, sometimes seen in the form of fire whirls, which look like tornadoes.

Fire whirls have been known to hurl flaming logs and other pieces of debris over considerable distances.

When firefighters witness this type of behavior in a fire, it means that spotting is probably taking place.

Spotting is where embers from the fire become airborne and create additional fires on the surrounding terrain.

It’s also a sign of a rapidly growing fire.

Meteorologists need to understand as much as they can about the local winds because they supply additional oxygen to the fire which fuels the flames and spreads them across the landscape.

Winds also zap moisture out of the surrounding vegetation which creates fuel for the fire to feed upon.

Rapidly changing conditions associated with the wind makes each fire fight a difficult and unique challenge.

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