Payson, Arizona Forest Fires
Conditions at the Time of the Images
The two images displayed in our gallery are the satellite's view of forest fires near Payson, Arizona at 1500 UTC (0900 MDT) on April 29, 1996. Both images were acquired from the GOES-9 (western geostationary) satellite. The visible image (Figure 1) shows a large plume of smoke spreading to the southwest under the influence of a northeast wind. The corresponding infrared image (Figure 2) shows a few black pixels over the fire area. This is typical of what one sees when looking for forest fires using only the infrared channels. In grey scale, surfaces emitting warmer temperatures are darker, hence the black pixels over the fire.
Fires Indicative of Major Drought
The fire near Payson was one of the first in a series of major forest and brush fires occurring throughout the western U.S. in the spring, summer, and fall of 1996. As of September 24, the fires had scorched 5.94 million acres, more acreage than in any year since 1969! This was 269% of the 1991-1995 average for the January 1 - September 24 period. The primary cause of the vicious 1996 fire season was a prolonged drought which dropped the Palmer Drought Index to -4.0 or less (extreme drought) to most of Arizona, and a value of -7.2 to extreme northwest Arizona by October 12. Anomalous ridging in the upper levels of the atmosphere and a corresponding northward displacement of the jet stream contributed to hot, dry conditions. The departure from normal average summer (June - August) temperature across northern Arizona was from 3 to more than 5 degrees above normal! In addition, the October - July period was the warmest on record for Arizona and California.
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