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

Just Accepted

This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.

An analysis of Southeastern U.S. prescribed burn weather windows: Seasonal variability and El Niño associations

Andrew Chiodi , Narasimhan (Sim) Larkin , Morgan Varner

Abstract

Fire plays an important role in wildland ecosystems, critical to sustaining biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and ecosystem health. 70% of U.S. prescribed burns take place in the Southeast, where treatment objectives range widely and accomplishing them depends on finding specific weather conditions for the effective and controlled application of fire. The climatological variation of the preferred weather window is examined here using two weather model reanalyses, with focus on conditions critical to smoke dispersion and erratic fire behavior. Large spatial gradients were evident in some months (e.g., 3X change across the Appalachian Mountains in winter). Over most of the Southeast, availability of preferred conditions in summer was several (up to 8) times less than in fall or winter. We offer explanation for this variability in terms of the mean seasonal changes of key weather conditions (especially mixing height and transport wind). We also examine the interannual variability of the preferred weather window for linkage to the tropical Pacific (1979-2010). Associations with the subset of El Niño events identified by outgoing-longwave-radiation suggest skillful seasonal fire weather forecasts are feasible. Together, these findings offer a predictive tool to prioritize allocation of scarce prescribed fire resources and maximize annual area treated across this landscape.

WF17132  Accepted 11 January 2018

© CSIRO 2018