National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

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

Chiodi, A.M., N.S. Larkin, and J.M. Varner

Int. J. Wildland Fire, 27(3), doi: 10.1071/WF17132, View online (2018)

Fire plays an important role in wildland ecosystems, critical to sustaining biodiversity, wildlife habitat and ecosystem health. By area, 70% of US 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 behaviour. Large spatial gradients were evident in some months (e.g. 3× 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 autumn 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 skilful seasonal fire weather forecasts are feasible. Together, these findings offer a predictive tool to prioritise allocation of scarce prescribed fire resources and maximise annual area treated across this landscape.

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