Fire season prediction is an art based on science, history

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE – Predicting a fire season is a delicate art grounded in science, history and a little bit of instinct, all of which can be swept away in a moment by the most powerful elusive factor - Mother Nature.

One chief intangible that haunts every fire season is the weather, including thunderstorms, said John Saltenberger a fire weather program manager at the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland. The center furnishes logistic and aviation support along with predictive services for state and federal agencies tackling wildfires in the region.

Saltenberger, a meteorologist, said volatile air in the atmosphere along with dry conditions are essential ingredients to make big fires.

“Instability in the atmosphere tends to lead to vertical motion. Most of the time the atmosphere moves horizontally. Fires tend to get larger when the atmosphere is unstable,” he said.

When the atmosphere is unstable – when . . .