While the past two years have put a damper on July 4 th fireworks shows, this year brings a new set of challenges with persistent drought, strong winds, and extreme heat across many regions of the country, potentially impacting millions of people. With thousands of fireworks shows happening across the country, weather conditions will influence many of these shows, and may impact safety protocols, fireworks quality and in some cases result in cancelling entire shows.
Fireworks are big business. Pre-pandemic, the display fireworks industry hit an all-time high $375 million in 2019 and, this year, an estimated 16,000 fireworks displays are scheduled to take place to celebrate the July 4th holiday. Added to the consumer fireworks business, Americans spent nearly $2.5 billion on fireworks last year alone. For much of the country, the Fourth of July weekend weather will be dry for most, with the exceptions being parts of the Southeast, and in a band across the Plans and Upper Midwest, where the strongest winds will also exist. Excessive heat does not appear to be a threat across the Northeast sections of the country however very hot and dry conditions will persist over most of the Western states, with temperatures as much as 15-20 degrees above normal.
Weather can have a wide range of impacts on fireworks displays. For example, while much of the country has dealt with persistent winds , that wind can have both good and bad effects on a fireworks show. Too much wind can blow fireworks off their path and run the risk of starting fires on structures or trees, but if there is no wind, the smoke from the fireworks becomes stagnant and dulls the vivid colors of the show. To minimize these impacts, the perfect wind conditions would be around 5 to 10 mph.
A temperature inversion also effects the quality of a fireworks display. An inversion happens when the temperature is cooler at the surface and warmer aloft, and when in place, the firework smoke won’t move or disperse as efficiently, creating a hazy sky and also enhancing the sounds from the explosions. Similar results can happen if there is fog present.
Of course, moisture also has a big impact on fireworks. It’s worth noting that on low humidity days, the colors of the fireworks will appear brighter than on evenings with more moisture in the air. And just because rainshowers may be in the forecast, it doesn’t mean a fireworks show has to be cancelled. It only becomes an issue if there is a thunderstorm with lightning, potential high winds, or hail, creating a safety issue for event attendees.
The lack of moisture may have the biggest impact and risk with fireworks shows and this year’s drought conditions across the west and southwest is causing concern for event organizers. With the dry vegetation prone to fire from the fireworks sparks combined with the many water restrictions, it makes it hard for event organizers to plan for — and justify — the use of water resources. Fireworks start an estimated 19,500 fires every year, and more fires are reported on July 4 th than any other day of the year. Many large firework shows will still happen but will be launched over large bodies of water to prevent wildfires.
This year, some communities across the west including many in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are outright cancelling fireworks shows because of the wildfire risk. The same is true of many cities in California where 60% of the state is in extreme drought and 12% is in a state of exceptional drought, which is the most severe level of drought recorded by the monitor.
Even though all fireworks shows are monitored by local firefighters, many communities are looking at alternative celebrations instead of an outright cancellation. From Lake Tahoe, to San Francisco, down the coast to San Diego, many cities will host drone show s instead of fireworks displays. A typical drone show may feature hundreds of lighted drones performing maneuvers to music, forming moving, multicolored designs in the night sky, without any fire or air pollution threat.
How event organizers react to and manage extreme weather events impacts not only the safety of the event, but also impacts public perception. Leveraging weather data in a meaningful way and having reliable resources in place ensures a safe and successful event, regardless of how the show goes on.