Wildfires have been wreaking havoc on the American west for several months now. Like all fires, they’re fought using science to find the best way to put them out. Government agencies use fire models, which are mathematical models that can predict how the fire may spread to determine the best use of resources. A flaw with these models is their inability to predict a fire’s spontaneous change in direction or exponential growth. New models are being created using satellite data and a better understanding of the weather patterns created by fires.
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The Carr fire, one of California’s most destructive fires this summer, created a fire tornado. Fast winds came down the neighboring mountains, which broke at the bottom, resembling a wave. The nearby fire heated up the swirling air, causing it to rise. Then the fire and hot air combined and created the tornado.
Wildfires are natural and contribute to a healthy ecosystem, but humans are to blame for some of these fires and making them worse. Forest management agencies that try to stop natural fires from occurring make the ones that do happen much worse. Forest fires are a natural way of clearing the brush on the ground and helps coniferous trees spread their seeds. Humans have caused the wildfire season to last longer than what it naturally should last. Climate change isn’t helping this issue either. Researchers for Geophysical Research Letters think that climate variations like El Niño will have more of an influence on heat waves and wildfires.
It’s hard to gather information about how fires affect the weather due to the extreme conditions. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado are developing new tools to handle these conditions. Equations to describe how heated air moves are being applied to wildfires in their new model, the Coupled Atmosphere-Wildland Fire Environment model, or CAWFE. This model was used to analyze the Carr fire. That tornado created winds up to 200 miles per hour and got as hot as 1500C.