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Quantification of Fire Season Potential for the Southwest Area SWCC Predictive Services Updated January 27, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Quantification of Fire Season Potential for the Southwest Area SWCC Predictive Services Updated January 27, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Quantification of Fire Season Potential for the Southwest Area SWCC Predictive Services Updated January 27, 2014

2 Quantifying Seasonal Fire Potential Over more than a decade of forecasting fire season potential, weve come to recognize many factors which contribute to significant fire activity. Over more than a decade of forecasting fire season potential, weve come to recognize many factors which contribute to significant fire activity. Most of the seasonal outlooks weve done have focused on the overriding factors in each individual year, and this has led to varied forecast techniques. Most of the seasonal outlooks weve done have focused on the overriding factors in each individual year, and this has led to varied forecast techniques. Our intent is to try and more comprehensively & quantitatively identify the main factors which drive fire season severity in the Southwest, and to assess them in an ongoing basis towards more informed seasonal outlooks. Our intent is to try and more comprehensively & quantitatively identify the main factors which drive fire season severity in the Southwest, and to assess them in an ongoing basis towards more informed seasonal outlooks.

3 Seasonal Fire Potential Main Factors 1. Drought 2. Fine Fuels Condition 3. Seasonal Temperature & Precipitation 4. Spring & early Summer Weather Patterns 5. Monsoon

4 Drought Drought conditions generally increase fire potential by increasing the drying effect on the fire environment during otherwise normal dry periods Drought conditions generally increase fire potential by increasing the drying effect on the fire environment during otherwise normal dry periods Fuel moisture values typically run below normal Fuel moisture values typically run below normal Higher temperatures & lower humidity during fire season Higher temperatures & lower humidity during fire season Prolonged drought can impact growing seasons and decrease fire potential in fine fuels regimes Prolonged drought can impact growing seasons and decrease fire potential in fine fuels regimes

5 Fine Fuels The amount, continuity and state (flush or cured) of fine fuels are critical to fire ignition and spread The amount, continuity and state (flush or cured) of fine fuels are critical to fire ignition and spread Fire fuels which are abundant, areally continuous & cured are strong indicators of above normal fire potential Fire fuels which are abundant, areally continuous & cured are strong indicators of above normal fire potential Fire fuels which are sparse, discontinuous & green are strong indicators of below normal fire potential Fire fuels which are sparse, discontinuous & green are strong indicators of below normal fire potential These factors often oppose each other and complicate their impacts These factors often oppose each other and complicate their impacts Large areas of the Southwest are dominated by fine-fuels & fine fuels are also a significant factor in heavy fuels regimes Large areas of the Southwest are dominated by fine-fuels & fine fuels are also a significant factor in heavy fuels regimes

6 Seasonal Temperature & Precipitation Temperature conditions and the amount and distribution of precipitation have varying impacts on fire season potential and some of the other contributing factors Temperature conditions and the amount and distribution of precipitation have varying impacts on fire season potential and some of the other contributing factors DEC>FEB conditions impact snowpack and potential compaction of fine fuels by snow DEC>FEB conditions impact snowpack and potential compaction of fine fuels by snow MAR>MAY conditions impact the fine fuels growing season MAR>MAY conditions impact the fine fuels growing season Ongoing temperature & precipitation anomalies worsen or improve drought and fuels conditions overall Ongoing temperature & precipitation anomalies worsen or improve drought and fuels conditions overall

7 Seasonal Temperature & Precipitation (continued) Abnormally warm & dry (cool & wet) conditions support above (below) normal fire potential Abnormally warm & dry (cool & wet) conditions support above (below) normal fire potential Caveat to the generality above is that increased moisture at the right time can lead to abundant fine fuels and increased fire potential after they cure Caveat to the generality above is that increased moisture at the right time can lead to abundant fine fuels and increased fire potential after they cure The greater & more consistent any anomalies are, the greater the impact on the overall fire season The greater & more consistent any anomalies are, the greater the impact on the overall fire season Greater variability leads to more complex fire potential picture with opposing impacts Greater variability leads to more complex fire potential picture with opposing impacts

8 Spring & Early Summer Weather Patterns Large-scale weather patterns are a critical factor to fire potential as the Southwest transitions into the peak MAY-mid July fire season. Large-scale weather patterns are a critical factor to fire potential as the Southwest transitions into the peak MAY-mid July fire season. Certain patterns promote increased fire potential and fire outbreaks, while others mitigate fire potential. These include patterns which are conducive to: Certain patterns promote increased fire potential and fire outbreaks, while others mitigate fire potential. These include patterns which are conducive to: Frequently windy, warm & dry conditions Frequently windy, warm & dry conditions Hot, dry conditions with light winds and sporadic lightning Hot, dry conditions with light winds and sporadic lightning Significant precipitation events and/or cool temperatures Significant precipitation events and/or cool temperatures These patterns can often make or break a fire season These patterns can often make or break a fire season

9 Monsoon The monsoon onset in July is typically the definitive end of the fire season The monsoon onset in July is typically the definitive end of the fire season The timing of the onset and the amount, distribution and consistency of monsoon rainfall are critical to both how quickly and definitively the fire season ends The timing of the onset and the amount, distribution and consistency of monsoon rainfall are critical to both how quickly and definitively the fire season ends Weak and/or erratic monsoon moisture can extend fire season and above normal fire potential well into August Weak and/or erratic monsoon moisture can extend fire season and above normal fire potential well into August Warm season grasses are dependent on monsoon moisture, so the monsoon has a strong impact on fine fuel growth that will impact the following fire season(s) Warm season grasses are dependent on monsoon moisture, so the monsoon has a strong impact on fine fuel growth that will impact the following fire season(s)

10 Quantifying Seasonal Fire Potential: Next Step Having identified what we believe are the primary factors for determining seasonal fire potential, the next step is to identify objective diagnostic and forecast tools to address them Having identified what we believe are the primary factors for determining seasonal fire potential, the next step is to identify objective diagnostic and forecast tools to address them Once this is done, we intend to validate these against past fire seasons and use them to consistently assess and predict future fire seasons Once this is done, we intend to validate these against past fire seasons and use them to consistently assess and predict future fire seasons We can start by using various tools to look back and see how the factors we identified related to the outcome of the historic 2011 fire season (and 2012 & 2013 as well) We can start by using various tools to look back and see how the factors we identified related to the outcome of the historic 2011 fire season (and 2012 & 2013 as well)

11 Fire Season 2011: Drought Present in JAN 2011 Present in JAN 2011 Forecast to expand/intensify Forecast to expand/intensify Extreme drought across the southeast ½ of the area by spring Extreme drought across the southeast ½ of the area by spring

12 Fire Season 2011: Fine Fuels Carryover fine fuels from prior wet year(s) led to fairly abundant and continuous fine fuels across the eastern 2/3 of the area Carryover fine fuels from prior wet year(s) led to fairly abundant and continuous fine fuels across the eastern 2/3 of the area Some significant winter mountain snowfalls effectively compacted these fine fuels and mitigated their impact to some degree (see early March snowpack map upcoming) Some significant winter mountain snowfalls effectively compacted these fine fuels and mitigated their impact to some degree (see early March snowpack map upcoming) Little or no spring growth due to persistently dry pattern Little or no spring growth due to persistently dry pattern

13 Fire Season 2011: DEC-FEB Temperature & Precipitation Early MAR 2011 Cool northern AZ into northern NM Cool northern AZ into northern NM Precipitation near normal northwest half, below normal southeast half Precipitation near normal northwest half, below normal southeast half Early March snowpack below normal, except near normal northern mountain areas where fine fuels were compacted Early March snowpack below normal, except near normal northern mountain areas where fine fuels were compacted PRECIP TEMP

14 Fire Season 2011: MAR-MAY Temperature & Precipitation Early APR 2011 Cool northern AZ into northwest NM, warm elsewhere. Cool northern AZ into northwest NM, warm elsewhere. Precipitation below normal area- wide, focused southeast. Precipitation below normal area- wide, focused southeast. Snowpack obliterated across all but far northern mountain areas by early April Snowpack obliterated across all but far northern mountain areas by early April PRECIP TEMP

15 Fire Season 2011: Spring & Early Summer Weather Pattern Large-scale pattern kept the jet stream persistently over or near the region Large-scale pattern kept the jet stream persistently over or near the region Unusually warm, windy & dry southeast half of area….windy, but cooler and more humid northwest Unusually warm, windy & dry southeast half of area….windy, but cooler and more humid northwest EARLY MARCH 2011 MID APRIL 2011 MID MAY 2011

16 Fire Season 2011: Monsoon Monsoon arrived roughly on time in mid July, but was erratic and weak after the first few weeks Monsoon arrived roughly on time in mid July, but was erratic and weak after the first few weeks Best moisture impacts were west of the continental divide, with near normal rainfall through AUG Best moisture impacts were west of the continental divide, with near normal rainfall through AUG Remainder of area saw below normal rainfall Remainder of area saw below normal rainfall Near record heat focused across the eastern half of the region, with only cool area northwest AZ Near record heat focused across the eastern half of the region, with only cool area northwest AZ Poor summer grass crop overall, especially in the grass dominated areas (implications for 2012) Poor summer grass crop overall, especially in the grass dominated areas (implications for 2012) TEMP PRECIP

17 Fire Season 2011: Combined Fire Potential Factors 1. Drought 2. Fine Fuels Condition 3. Seasonal Temperature & Precipitation 4. Spring & early Summer Weather Patterns 5. Monsoon For this demonstration, only portions of these factors which would support above normal fire potential are highlighted. For this demonstration, only portions of these factors which would support above normal fire potential are highlighted. Combined factors aligned strongly across the southeast 1/2 of the area Combined factors aligned strongly across the southeast 1/2 of the area

18 Large Fire Activity 2011 Season 2011:3500 fires for 2.1M acres, March>August Largest fires in both AZ and NM state histories Unprecedented duration of both large fires and the overall season itself Incredible fire activity east/southeast NM into west TX Overall focus across the southeast ½ of the region Horseshoe 2 Wallow Las Conchas Alignment of Above Normal Fire Potential Factors

19 Validation of 2012 Seasonal Outlook Above Normal outlook area based on same methodology encompassed 75% of the significant fires in 2012 Correct that areas east of the continental divide would not have much of a fire season in terms of large/significant fires (Little Bear aside) Methodology worked well over two straight fire seasons with markedly different drivers (wind, fine fuels, dryness in 2011; heat, dryness/drought, lightning in 2012) YELLOW = Lighting Caused RED = Human Caused

20 Difficult to gauge without a better sense of what Normal is, but were continuing to pick up about 75% of significant fires in the Above Normal area. 3 rd straight year with similar results, so probably time for a more in-depth validation ALWAYS A WORK IN PROGRESS! Validation of 2013 Seasonal Outlook

21 Quantifying Seasonal Fire Potential: Wrap-Up This effort does not constitute a formal scientific study or validation of our methodology, but it is a process in development with good initial results This effort does not constitute a formal scientific study or validation of our methodology, but it is a process in development with good initial results As we hone our approach, we validate it by analyzing fire seasons since 2000 on the same basis and make that information available. As we hone our approach, we validate it by analyzing fire seasons since 2000 on the same basis and make that information available. In the meantime, we will focus on the 5 factors we identified when discussing and assessing season fire potential In the meantime, we will focus on the 5 factors we identified when discussing and assessing season fire potential Drought Drought Fine Fuels Fine Fuels Season temperature and precipitation Season temperature and precipitation Spring/early summer weather patterns Spring/early summer weather patterns Monsoon Monsoon Questions, comments, discussion welcome: Contact Chuck Maxwell at or Questions, comments, discussion welcome: Contact Chuck Maxwell at or


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