Atmospheric and Fuel Moisture Characteristics Associated with Lightning-Attributed Fires

Andrew J. Dowdy Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Docklands, Melbourne, and Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Graham A. Mills Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Docklands, Melbourne, and Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

A systematic examination is presented of the relationship between lightning occurrence and fires attributed to lightning ignitions. Lightning occurrence data are matched to a database of fires attributed to lightning ignition over southeastern Australia and are compared with atmospheric and fuel characteristics at the time of the lightning occurrence. Factors influencing the chance of fire per lightning stroke are examined, including the influence of fuel moisture and weather parameters, as well as seasonal and diurnal variations. The fuel moisture parameters of the Canadian Fire Weather Index System are found to be useful in indicating whether a fire will occur, given the occurrence of lightning. The occurrence of “dry lightning” (i.e., lightning that occurs without significant rainfall) is found to have a large influence on the chance of fire per lightning stroke. Through comparison of the results presented here with the results of studies from other parts of the world, a considerable degree of universality is shown to exist in the characteristics of lightning fires and the atmospheric conditions associated with them, suggesting the potential for these results to be applied more widely than just in the area of the study.

Corresponding author address: Andrew J. Dowdy, Bureau of Meteorology, 700 Collins St., Docklands, Melbourne, VIC 3008, Australia. E-mail: a.dowdy@bom.gov.au

Abstract

A systematic examination is presented of the relationship between lightning occurrence and fires attributed to lightning ignitions. Lightning occurrence data are matched to a database of fires attributed to lightning ignition over southeastern Australia and are compared with atmospheric and fuel characteristics at the time of the lightning occurrence. Factors influencing the chance of fire per lightning stroke are examined, including the influence of fuel moisture and weather parameters, as well as seasonal and diurnal variations. The fuel moisture parameters of the Canadian Fire Weather Index System are found to be useful in indicating whether a fire will occur, given the occurrence of lightning. The occurrence of “dry lightning” (i.e., lightning that occurs without significant rainfall) is found to have a large influence on the chance of fire per lightning stroke. Through comparison of the results presented here with the results of studies from other parts of the world, a considerable degree of universality is shown to exist in the characteristics of lightning fires and the atmospheric conditions associated with them, suggesting the potential for these results to be applied more widely than just in the area of the study.

Corresponding author address: Andrew J. Dowdy, Bureau of Meteorology, 700 Collins St., Docklands, Melbourne, VIC 3008, Australia. E-mail: a.dowdy@bom.gov.au
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