Weather’s Influence on Wildfires

Wild Fire

Nebraska has already seen a handful of days of High Fire Danger where outdoor burns are cautioned against thanks to ideal conditions in place for the spread of a wildfire. How do these conditions develop? Weather is usually at the wheel.

Weather holds a big influence in the birth, growth and death of a wildfire. Three weather ingredients that can affect wildfires are:

  • Temperature
  • Wind
  • Moisture

The temperature of the air and, subsequently, the ground affects the sparking capability of wildfires. Radiant heat from the sun warms and dries sticks, trees and underbrush on the ground which then act as potential fuels. Since temperatures are typically the warmest during the afternoon, wildfires spread the quickest during this time of day as fuels are allowed to ignite and burn faster.

Wind is the most impactful and unpredictable factor on a wildfire’s behavior. Stronger winds aid in the rapid spreading of a fire, lifting embers into the air which create new fire spots upon landing.

The amount of moisture in the air can either help or hinder a wildfire. Dry air contains less water vapor, allowing wildfires to ignite easier. Air with high humidity can hamper the ignition of fuels and reduce a wildfire’s intensity.

When water vapor fills the air to its saturation point, precipitation falls in the form of rain. Precipitation directly impacts fire prevention by saturating the ground and filling potential fire fuels with moisture.

Therefore, the combination of warm temperatures, high winds and dry air can easily lead to ripe conditions for a wildfire to ignite.

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