Rice Straw Burning
Program - 97



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The 1997 Rice Straw Burning Program was run by Don Schukraft, a certified meteorologist and manager of Weather Network, Inc


The 1997 Fall Burn Program may have been successful in terms of preserving Sacramento Valley air quality, but it also saw the fewest number WeatherSta.jpg (79596 bytes)of acres burned since the inception of the program in 1981. Few periods of good dispersion combined with apolitical climate not conducive toward burning are the primary reasons why so little acreage was burned.

The 1997 fall burn ran from September 15 through November 13. During this run of 59 days, nearly 80,000 total acres were burned, 60,800 acres of which were rice fields. There was an additional 12,000 acres burned prior to the official start of the fall burn, bringing total rice acreage burned to just under 73,000 acres. This is 18,000 acres less than the previous low set in 1995. On only one day was there more than 5,000 acres burned and only five days saw more than 3,000 acres burned.

El Nino Strikes

When the program got under way, burning was initially restricted to the southern and western valley. A series of frontal systems brought spotty precipitation to the north state. A warm and progressively stable weather pattern developed in the wake of these frontal systems. Poor dispersion the remainder of September caused three of those days to be declared no burn days, while other days with better dispersion saw only limited burning. Ten days were declared no burn days last fall. Another 15 days were declared marginal because of poor dispersion or excessive moisture. On these marginal days less than 1,000 acres were burned.

October began with the passage of two relatively vigorous storm systems, providing the two best burn episodes of the fall. Nearly 4,000 acres were burned on October 1 and almost 10,000 acres on October 8.

Unfortunately, high pressure and very stable conditions created an unfavorable weather regime for most of the remainder of the month, producing six no burn days and numerous other days with minimal acreage burned. A frontal passage November 6 brought some rain and better dispersion to the valley and dry areas saw a decent amount of burning between November 6 and November 9. El Nino-generated storms deluged the valley after that, leaving most areas too wet to burn.

Annual Tune-Up

Preparations for the 1997 fall burn began in late summer with visits to the eyes a and ears of the program - the Automated Meteorological Observing Stations (AMOS) located strategically throughout the Sacramento Valley. Each of the stations was checked for proper operation of the datalogger, meteorological sensors and radio equipment. The Fall Burn Program is very much a team effort involving Weather Network, which supplies daily detailed weather information; Fife Environmental, which manages centralized computer operations; the California Air Resources Board, which makes the final decision whether to allow burning on any given day; and the county air pollution control districts, which parcel out allotted acreages to growers. On September 5 a meeting of all these groups was held to review procedures, improve burn placement coordination and to stress program goals.

Complaints Monitored

The goal of the fall burn program is to manage the burning of rice straw and other agricultural byproducts with minimum impact to Sacramento Valley air quality. One subjective measure of success is citizen complaints. A total of 80 complaints were recorded by county air quality officials and the Air Resources Board, 19 of which were lodged at the latter. A large percentage of these were generated October 8, the day the largest acreage was burned.

A more objective measure of air quality is the Coefficient of Haze (COI-1). On October 8 a considerable amount of smoke was generated by the burning of nearly 10,000 acres, but the smoke was quickly dispersed and air quality readings were quite good on that day and even more improved on October 9.

Because smoke management is not an exact science, there are still instances of smoke intruding into urban areas. Nonetheless, the program has greatly reduced the number of these adverse impacts. Shifting the majority of the burning to spring, when dispersion is much better, will be beneficial to both growers and citizens of the Sacramento Valley Air Basin.

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