The Dangerous Connection Between Weather and Wildfires

August 16, 2018

The Dangerous Connection Between Weather and Wildfires

Each year, over 8,000 wildfires occur in Canada, resulting in 2 million hectares of burned area (National Forestry Database).

Weather plays a significant role in Canadian wildfires, impacting 3 major areas of a wildfire event:

  1. Affecting whether a fire will start
  2. Affecting how the fire will behave
  3. Affecting how the smoke will spread

Weather & Starting A Fire

Dry conditions play a critical role in many wildfires.

"In a prolonged dry spell, trees, ground litter and other fuel dries out and ignites more readily. A low snow pack in winter, as well as a lack of rainfall in spring and summer, will increase the chances of dryness. High temperatures will increase evaporation, causing further moisture loss" (Government of Canada).

Weather & Spreading The Fire

Once a wildfire has been ignited, wind has an impact on the severity of the fire, controlling its direction, and fueling the fire with oxygen which can cause it to spread and increase in size.

Weather & Spreading The Smoke

Just as wind can control the direction of the wildfire, it can control the direction of the wildfire smoke and determine how far the smoke will drift.

"Conditions in the atmosphere determine whether the smoke will remain near the ground, or whether it will be carried aloft. If a cool, dense layer of air forms near the ground, and the winds are light, a temperature inversion can trap the smoke near the surface. The smoke will then remain within the local area and can lead to severe air pollution at ground level" (Government of Canada).

Strong winds can cause the smoke to travel quickly, whereas the smoke will rise with little or no wind at the source. Rising smoke may be seen as a good direction, but the smoke plume can stay intact as it rises, then drift thousands of kilometers and meet weather conditions that will cause it to drop, impacting people in other cities or even provinces.

 

Get more tips on protecting yourself from wildfire smoke

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