Climatology of Convective Instability

Atmospheric convective instability is believed to influence wildland fire behavior. Instability allows more energetic updrafts and overall circulations associated with fires, as well as fostering greater turbulence. Both of these effects can result in more vigorous and variable fire intensity and spread. (See Potter 2012 or Werth et al. 2011 for detailed discussion.)

This atlas contains maps that show the monthly and seasonal variability in atmospheric instability, as measured by convective available potential energy, or CAPE. The data and methods used to determine the CAPE values are described in Potter and Anaya (2015).

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Tools are provided for research purposes only, and may not accurately reflect what may happen due to numerous reasons. Data are provisional; use at own risk.

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All others may contact:  Dr. Brian Potter, US Forest Service


Potter, Brian E. 2005. The role of released moisture in the atmospheric dynamics associated with wildland fires. International Journal of Wildland Fire 14, no. 1: 77-84. [view paper]

Potter, Brian E. 2012. Atmospheric interactions with wildland fire behaviour–I. Basic surface interactions, vertical profiles and synoptic structures. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21, no. 7: 779-801. [view paper]

Potter BE and Anaya M 2015. A Wildfire-relevant climatology of the convective environment of the United States. International Journal of Wildland Fire 24, 267-275. [view paper]

Werth, Paul A, Brian E Potter, Craig B Clements, et al. 2011. Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: volume I for fire managers. Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Oregon. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-854. [view paper]