Many wildland firefighters carry an instrument called a sling psychrometer. It consists of two encased thermometers, and is swung above the head on a short rope — making the firefighters appear not unlike David readying to slay Goliath. The instrument gives a quick field reading of relative humidity, one of the most important factors in predicting what a wildfire is going to do. Quick drops in relative humidity are a sure signal that the air is getting drier and that a fire is about to turn ugly.
Wildland firefighters know weather. They study weather reports and projections. They track fronts moving across the continent. Just like you, they watch The Weather Channel. But firefighters also have to understand the sky. They have to be aware of wind, and to understand wind they have to recognize how different cloud formations indicate coming changes. The last thing a firefighter wants is to be caught on the business end of an unforeseen wind change.
So when wildland firefighters talk about climate change, it’s good to listen. They have been paying attention.
Toby Richards, a fire management officer ... Read more