Climate change increases the potential for extreme wildfires.

Di Virgilio, G., J.P. Evans, S.A.P. Blake, M. Armstrong, A.J. Dowdy, J. Sharples and R. McRae
Geophysical Research Letters, 46 (14), 8517-8526, doi: 10.1029/2019GL083699, 2019.


Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) wildfires cause devastation in many regions globally. Given that fire‐atmosphere coupling is associated with pyroCbs, future changes in coincident high index values of atmospheric instability and dryness (C‐Haines) and near‐surface fire weather are assessed for southeastern Australia using a regional climate projection ensemble. We show that observed pyroCb events occur predominantly on forested, rugged landscapes during extreme C‐Haines conditions, but over a wide range of surface fire weather conditions. Statistically significant increases in the number of days where both C‐Haines and near‐surface fire weather values are conducive to pyroCb development are projected across southeastern Australia, predominantly for November (spring), and less strongly for December (summer) in 2060‐2079 versus 1990‐2009, with future C‐Haines increases linked to increased 850‐hPa dewpoint depression. The increased future occurrence of conditions conducive to pyroCb development and their extension into spring have implications for mitigating these dangerous wildfires and urbanizing fire‐prone landscapes.

Key Figure

Figure 1. The percentage of grid‐cell events that occurred for increments of 0.5 C‐Haines and increments of 2 Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) during 1990‐2016, and the C‐Haines and FFDI values at the date and location of pyroCbs (N=40) and standard wildfires (N=166). The landform type and vegetation type on which fires occurred are also symbolized.

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