How the weather contributed to our risk of wildfires in West Virginia
(WVNS) – On December 2, 2021 at 9:00 a.m., two bushfires / forest fires were active in the state of West Virginia. One in New River Gorge National Park and the other in Page, WV. Although the causes of the fires are still unknown at this time, we do know that recent weather conditions in the region are contributing to their spread. During the previous month, rain was hard to come by not only in West Virginia, but across much of the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States, as drought conditions worsened in the region.
Extended periods of dry weather, especially during the fall, contribute to high levels of dry / dead vegetation which in turn becomes the fuel for fires to develop. For example, a forest floor covered with leaves on a normal day would provide a lot of easy kindling to start a fire and propagate it. This risk is only exasperated when the leaves have baked in the sun and haven’t seen driving rain for a while.
In addition to long dry spells and drought, meteorologists look for a few other key factors when the weather becomes a contributing factor to a fire risk.
During fall, winter and early spring, dry air is a constant problem, as temperatures are generally cooler during these seasons. Cool air is more dense and, therefore, cannot hold as much water vapor as the warmer air found in late spring and summer. During prolonged periods of low humidity (dry air), static electricity tends to build up and increases the risk of unexpected shock. In some cases, this may be enough to start a fire if the electric shock is severe enough. Other weather events, such as high winds, can fan the flames and blow them into otherwise unaffected areas, spreading the blaze further.
As of December 2, all of southern West Virginia and most of Virginia were at “moderate” fire risk according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Forestry Division also told 59News that in the southern WV region, they saw 42 fires burning nearly 400 acres. Across the mountain state, they saw 120 wildfires and bushfires.
While the weather can often help fires develop and spread, it can also prevent them when the winds start to weaken and rain returns to the forecast. Remember that you can check the weather forecast at any time on the 59News or StormTracker 59 mobile applications available on the App Store and Google Play for free. Or you can check out the latest weather blog here on our website!