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Fox News Weather Center

High winds to disperse smoke but raise fire threat in southern US this weekend

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A period of gusty winds will help to disperse smoky conditions but will raise the threat for wildfires to spread over the interior southern United States this weekend.

A strong push of much cooler air will sweep through the South this weekend. Temperatures will be slashed by 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, when compared to highs on Friday.

Winds during Saturday and Sunday will be from the northwest and average 15-25 mph. Gusts between 40 and 50 mph are possible are possible over the ridges and along the eastern slopes of the Appalachians and foothills.

"The well-mixed air will cause the smoke that has persisted over portions of the southern Appalachians and Piedmont areas to disperse," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

However, some people downwind of fires as far south as Florida and coastal Georgia may notice a hazy sky and a smoky odor for a time this weekend.

Despite much cooler conditions, the strong winds could cause existing wildfires to behave erratically.

"Winds as strong as forecast this weekend will create great challenges for firefighters, especially where significant containment of wildfires has already been achieved," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

The windy conditions could cause existing fires to jump lines of cleared out brush, known as firebreaks.

Firefighters walk down a dirt road a wildfire burns a hillside Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, in Clayton, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The strong gusts could carry burning embers miles away from existing fires and could potentially ignite new blazes farther to the southeast.

The storm system causing the wind will have delivered some rain to portions of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia by Saturday evening.

"This rainfall, even though light, will moisten the fuel in these areas and lower the risk for new wildfire ignition for a time," Duffey said. "However, no rain will fall farther south and east from this storm into this weekend."

The air will turn stagnant during Monday and Tuesday, when smoky conditions may again become an issue for those with respiratory problems in the region.

Duffey is optimistic about conditions beginning late this month.

"The worst of the fire season may be over following another storm system on or just before Thanksgiving Day," Duffey said.

That storm has the greatest potential for delivering widespread rainfall from Wednesday into Thursday, which could be enough to moisten the fuel and douse some of the wildfires.

"During the last part of November and into December, the area will experience cooler air more often and more frequent storms are likely with soaking rain on a regional basis," Duffey said.

The anticipated rain in the long term may not only tame the fires, but may also begin to chip away at the drought.

Conditions over much of the interior South range from abnormally dry to exceptional drought.

These conditions have grown worse in recent weeks. The prevailing drought, drying brush and newly fallen leaves have made the perfect conditions for wildfires.