Effects of lightning and other meteorological factors on fire activity in the North American boreal forest: implications for fire weather forecasting
- 1Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, USA
- 2Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA
Abstract. The effects of lightning and other meteorological factors on wildfire activity in the North American boreal forest are statistically analyzed during the fire seasons of 2000–2006 through an integration of the following data sets: the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) level 2 fire products, the 3-hourly 32-km gridded meteorological data from North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR), and the lightning data collected by the Canadian Lightning Detection Network (CLDN) and the Alaska Lightning Detection Network (ALDN). Positive anomalies of the 500 hPa geopotential height field, convective available potential energy (CAPE), number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, and the number of consecutive dry days are found to be statistically important to the seasonal variation of MODIS fire counts in a large portion of Canada and the entirety of Alaska. Analysis of fire occurrence patterns in the eastern and western boreal forest regions shows that dry (in the absence of precipitation) lightning strikes account for only 20% of the total lightning strikes, but are associated with (and likely cause) 40% of the MODIS observed fire counts in these regions. The chance for ignition increases when a threshold of at least 10 dry strikes per NARR grid box and at least 10 consecutive dry days is reached. Due to the orientation of the large-scale pattern, complex differences in fire and lightning occurrence and variability were also found between the eastern and western sub-regions. Locations with a high percentage of dry strikes commonly experience an increased number of fire counts, but the mean number of fire counts per dry strike is more than 50% higher in western boreal forest sub-region, suggesting a geographic and possible topographic influence. While wet lightning events are found to occur with a large range of CAPE values, a high probability for dry lightning occurs only when 500 hPa geopotential heights are above ~5700 m and CAPE values are near the maximum observed level, underscoring the importance of low-level instability to boreal fire weather forecasts.