Hazardous Weather

An innocent looking flame fanned by a strong wind can create a wildfire of enormous proportions, but while fires are notoriously destructive, they can also beneficial. Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne looks at how weather plays a factor in this danger to life and property as part of Hazardous Weather Awareness Week.

Fire threatened homes in Leon County last Saturday. Dry conditions that we've experienced this winter along with a breeze helped fan the flames. Surprisingly, areas impacted by last year's hurricanes are not helping this year's fire situation.

Dr. Deborah Hanley, a meteorologist for the Florida Division of Forestry says, "We may experience a few escape fires during the next few months just because of all of the hurricane debris that people are trying to burn. Sometimes people are inexperienced and the weather changes and people are not completely aware of what's happening."

Occasionally you may hear about red flag warnings when conditions are dry enough to spread fire.

Deb says, "It's an advisory of weather conditions that may adversely affect fire behavior, but in many cases it's weather that we need to do some of these burns."

These intentional fires known as prescribed burns set off by forestry officials are necessary to burn off existing natural fuels that can otherwise lead to far more dangerous fires.

Attempts are underway to understand fire behavior using computer models, but it may be quite awhile before we're ever able to accurately predict them with advanced warning.

Dr. Phil Cunningham, assistant professor of meteorology at FSU, says, "It takes a very, very long time to run these models on even super-computers, so it's not going to be something we can use straightaway in the field or for operations."

We realize that the hot flames can be destructive and adversely affect lives and property, but fire is also natural and beneficial.

Deb says, "It also helps the habitat. We have a lot of species that need certain kinds of fuel conditions and open forest areas. We can return the forest to that kind of state by going in and burning the areas out."

We humans should keep these things in mind: the best piece of advice is to use common sense and play it safe.