International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Variability and drivers of extreme fire weather in fire-prone areas of south-eastern Australia

Sarah Harris A C , Graham Mills A and Timothy Brown B

A School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

B Division of Atmospheric Sciences, Desert Research Institute, 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, NV 89511, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: sarah.harris@monash.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire - https://doi.org/10.1071/WF16118
Submitted: 23 June 2016  Accepted: 25 December 2016   Published online: 13 February 2017

Abstract

Most of the life and property losses due to bushfires in south-eastern Australia occur under extreme fire weather conditions – strong winds, high temperatures, low relative humidity (RH) and extended drought. However, what constitutes extreme, and the values of the weather ingredients and their variability, differs regionally. Using a gridded dataset to identify the highest 10 fire weather days from 1972 to 2012, as defined by McArthur’s Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI), for 24 sites across Victoria and nearby, we analyse the extent and variability of these highest 10 FFDI days, and of the contributing temperature, RH, wind speed, wind direction and drought indices. We document the occurrence of these events by time of day, month of occurrence and inter-annual variability. We find there is considerable variability among regions in the highest FFDI days and also the contributing weather and drought parameters, with some regional groupings apparent. Many major fire events occurred on these highest 10 fire weather days; however there are also days in which extreme fire weather occurred yet no known major fires are recorded. The results from this study will be an additional valuable resource to fire agencies in fire risk planning by basing fire management decisions on site-specific extreme fire weather conditions.

Additional keywords: McArthur’s Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI), regional groupings of FFDI, Victorian FFDI variability, WRF gridded dataset.


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