Atmospheric Impacts on the Growing Frequency of Forest Fires in Southern Appalachia

Authors: Matthew Warren*, University of Georgia, Marcus Williams, Colleague at the University of Georgia , Marshall Shepherd, Advisor at the University of Georgia
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology
Keywords: Southern Appalachia, Climate change, Wildfires, Rain-free days, Leaf litter
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: Download



Over the past few years, the frequency and severity of forest fires throughout Southern Appalachia have been on the rise. This area, until recently, had experienced a prolonged period of relatively low wildfire activity. This leads one to scientific questions about what is driving the increase in activity. The climate of the study region has been fairly stable for several decades, but there could be a shift occurring, particularly related to drought frequency and intensity. This study was motivated by the notion that there could be relationships to the fire activity. There may also be changes to the landscape that have increased the frequency and likelihood of fires. Key research questions that may emerge include: (1) What are some of the key differences in the weather patterns prior to the recent fires as opposed to currently? (2) Are certain attributes of the study area causing the current fire events? (3) What atmospheric conditions have led to the current increase in fire frequency? And (4) Are the recent events outliers, or is this part of a new normal residents can expect to endure in the Southern Appalachian region? While drought has been a central focus, recent studies suggest that fuel load and “rain-free” days could be significant identifiers. Using a climate division framework, we identify key co-relationships between rainfall duration, leaf litter accumulation, and wildfire activity in the region.

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