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Accurate Quantification of Seasonal Rainfall and Associated Climate–Wildfire Relationships

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  • 1 Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • | 2 Department of Plant Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
  • | 3 Avon Park Air Force Range, Avon Park, Florida
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Abstract

Wildfires are often governed by rapid changes in seasonal rainfall. Therefore, measuring seasonal rainfall on a temporally finescale should facilitate the prediction of wildfire regimes. To explore this hypothesis, daily rainfall data over a 58-yr period (1950–2007) in south-central Florida were transformed into cumulative rainfall anomalies (CRAs). This transformation allowed precise estimation of onset dates and durations of the dry and wet seasons, as well as a number of other variables characterizing seasonal rainfall. These variables were compared with parameters that describe ENSO and a wildfire regime in the region (at the Avon Park Air Force Range). Onset dates and durations were found to be highly variable among years, with standard deviations ranging from 27 to 41 days. Rainfall during the two seasons was distinctive, with the dry season having half as much as the wet season despite being nearly 2 times as long. The precise quantification of seasonal rainfall led to strong statistical models describing linkages between climate and wildfires: a multiple-regression technique relating the area burned with the seasonal rainfall characteristics had an of 0.61, and a similar analysis examining the number of wildfires had an of 0.56. Moreover, the CRA approach was effective in outlining how seasonal rainfall was associated with ENSO, particularly during the strongest and most unusual events (e.g., El Niño of 1997/98). Overall, the results presented here show that using CRAs helped to define the linkages among seasonality, ENSO, and wildfires in south-central Florida, and they suggest that this approach can be used in other fire-prone ecosystems.

Corresponding author address: Matthew G. Slocum, Dept. of Biological Sciences, 202 LSB, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803. Email: mateo457@yahoo.com

Abstract

Wildfires are often governed by rapid changes in seasonal rainfall. Therefore, measuring seasonal rainfall on a temporally finescale should facilitate the prediction of wildfire regimes. To explore this hypothesis, daily rainfall data over a 58-yr period (1950–2007) in south-central Florida were transformed into cumulative rainfall anomalies (CRAs). This transformation allowed precise estimation of onset dates and durations of the dry and wet seasons, as well as a number of other variables characterizing seasonal rainfall. These variables were compared with parameters that describe ENSO and a wildfire regime in the region (at the Avon Park Air Force Range). Onset dates and durations were found to be highly variable among years, with standard deviations ranging from 27 to 41 days. Rainfall during the two seasons was distinctive, with the dry season having half as much as the wet season despite being nearly 2 times as long. The precise quantification of seasonal rainfall led to strong statistical models describing linkages between climate and wildfires: a multiple-regression technique relating the area burned with the seasonal rainfall characteristics had an of 0.61, and a similar analysis examining the number of wildfires had an of 0.56. Moreover, the CRA approach was effective in outlining how seasonal rainfall was associated with ENSO, particularly during the strongest and most unusual events (e.g., El Niño of 1997/98). Overall, the results presented here show that using CRAs helped to define the linkages among seasonality, ENSO, and wildfires in south-central Florida, and they suggest that this approach can be used in other fire-prone ecosystems.

Corresponding author address: Matthew G. Slocum, Dept. of Biological Sciences, 202 LSB, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803. Email: mateo457@yahoo.com

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