Climate Risk Areas Initiative News

Scientists Develop Method For Seasonal Prediction Of Western Wildfires

  • 24 May 2022

A column of smoke rises from the Tamarack Fire in Nevada in 2021.

A column of smoke rises from the Tamarack Fire in Nevada in 2021. (Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.)

This summer’s western wildfire season is likely to be more severe than average but not as devastating as last year’s near-record, according to an experimental prediction method developed by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The new method, detailed in a peer-reviewed study, analyzes precipitation, temperatures, drought, and other climate conditions in the winter and spring in order to predict the extent of wildfires across the western United States during the following summer. The research team developed the method by applying machine learning techniques to observations of every wildfire season since 1984, when current satellite measurements of fires first became available.

Although scientists had previously known that climate conditions during the spring and summer influence fire risk, the new study demonstrates that, even several months before peak fire season, the climate across large parts of the West plays an important role in setting the stage for the blazes. 

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