The Impact of Rain-Free Day Evolution on Fire Frequency and Magnitude in Southern Appalachia

Authors: Matthew Warren*, University of Georgia, Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia , Marcus Williams, University of Georgia
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Regional Geography, Environmental Science
Keywords: Southern Appalachia, Climate change, Wildfires, Rain-free days, Dry days
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Buchanan, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

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 precipitation frequency and intensity. This study is motivated by the notion that there is a relationship between consecutive “dry days” and fire frequency/magnitude. 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 specific 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 “dry days” could be significant identifiers. Using a climate division framework, we identify key co-relationships between rainfall patterns, leaf litter accumulation, and wildfire activity in the region.

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