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Establishing Relationships Between Drought Indices and Wildfire Danger Outputs: A Test Case for the California-Nevada DEWS

Project Timeline
January 2017 - April 2019
Project Status
Completed

California and Nevada’s climate and weather patterns create fire-prone environments for many wildland–urban interface communities, highlighting the value in understanding the relationships between drought and wildfire. More specifically, information is needed on how drought indices are related to fire danger outputs that are commonly used in fire management.
 
With National Integrated Drought Information System Coping with Drought support through NOAA’s Sectoral Applications Research Program, recent research led by Dr. Dan McEvoy from the Western Regional Climate Center and the Desert Research Institute examined the relationships in California and Nevada between common drought indices and National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) outputs to help understand what drought indices might complement or be integrated into NFDRS. This type of information can help inform the Predictive Services’ significant fire potential outlook. 

Results show a combination of drought indices is needed since large variability was found when looking at subregions of California and Nevada and there was not a single drought index “champion” for the entire region. Drought indices that incorporate both evaporative demand (the “atmospheric thirst”) and flexible time scales have the most promise to help improve seasonal fire potential outlooks. The study also examined the evaporative demand drivers—temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation—leading to the large and destructive October 2017 Tubbs Fire, at the time the most destructive fire in California history. A shift in the evaporative demand dominant drivers from high temperature earlier in the summer during a heat wave to low humidity several days before the start of the fire signaled increasing fire potential.

For more information, visit this project's research profile.

General Location
Region
Specific Location
California
Nevada
Regions
California Nevada
Key Partners
Western Regional Climate Center
Desert Research Institute
NOAA
NIDIS
National Drought Mitigation Center
Sectors
Wildfire
DEWS Components
Observation & Monitoring
Planning & Preparedness
Prediction & Forecasting
Research & Applications