Monday's high was 62º - how about that for a Valentine's Day heat up! The winds were on the gusty side: SHD reported 43mph, WHSV reported 34mph, CHO reported 46 mph, and our weather watcher Carl in Stanley reported 53 mph. That's tropical storm force winds!
The powerful, but dry cold front has since passed and we're a bit cooler today with highs in the mid to upper 40's. However, spring fire season begins today and lasts through April 30th. Monday brought about dangerous fire conditions throughout the Valley and several brush fires were reported in Albemarle & Augusta Counties.
Relatively speaking, our winter was dry. Most of us have received less than 2" of liquid since the beginning of 2011, with one moderate snow event and one moderate rain event. What makes this time of year so prone to fires (especially this year) is a combination of factors: brush (dead leaves & twigs) on the forest floor, low precipitation amounts over the past few months, continued dry weather, and gusty winds. Remember at this time last year, we still had 2 feet of snow on the ground...spring fire season wasn't really an issue until mid-March. However, this year is different.
When we get dry cold fronts moving through the region, winds are typically the big story. Ahead of the front, we have a warm southwest wind. Usually this will bring moderate moisture and dewpoints rise. However, with dry cold fronts, dewpoints can only rise so much. Therefore once the winds shift to the NW after the front moves through, the air dries very quick. Northwest, or downsloping winds, dry the atmosphere extremely fast. Combine that with the gusty winds, already dry ground - you get a prime setup for brush fires. All it takes is a cigarette out the window to start a brush fire...and a 15 mph wind to spread it uncontrollably.
Ahead of these events, the National Weather Service will typically issue a Fire Weather Watch. These are then upgraded to a Red Flag Warning or the NWS will put out a Special Weather Statement about increased fire risk.
Now that we're in calmer weather, it's the time to ask questions that we didn't have time to discuss in winter! Fire away!