NWC REU 2008
May 27 - August 1



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Applying Mesonet Wind Climatology to Oklahoma Prescribed Burns

Jeffrey Zuczek and Mark Shafer



Since 2001, twelve prescribed burning associations have been enacted in the state of Oklahoma. These burn associations perform a variety of tasks, such as the control of invasive plant species. The Eastern Red Cedar tree is especially notorious in Oklahoma for breaking up pastures and wildlife habitats. Prescribed burning is also a major tool used by farmers for crop preparation, via the controlling of invasive weeds. The benefits achieved from prescribed burning in Oklahoma are vast.


A burn must be carried out in a safe and predictable manner in order to reap its environmental benefits. Understanding prevailing weather conditions is a must when it comes to burning. This study specifically focuses on winds that exist during the time of burn. Wind climatology, via Oklahoma Mesonet data that extends from January of 1994 through May of 2008, is used to predict the likelihood of having several consecutive favorable burn days. A three-pronged criterion was developed to determine the constraints of a “favorable burn day” that is based primarily on information gathered from officials of the individual burn associations. A resulting burn calendar shows both daily and monthly trends of favorable burn days for February, March, and April. These specific months are desired by the burn associations for a variety of reasons, such as burning before native birds begin to nest and when relative humidities are still low. The daily burn calendars present a weak downward trend in the data. This trend suggests that of the three months considered in this study, February is the most favorable month to conduct prescribed burns. Monthly burn calendars, however, show a more pronounced downward trend. They present clear evidence that the frequency of favorable burn days declines from February through April. These results suggest that from a purely climatological perspective, it is wise to conduct burns earlier, rather than later.

Full Paper [PDF]