Attribution of Seasonal Wildfire Risk to Changes in Climate: A Statistical Extremes Approach

Troy P. Wixson aColorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Daniel Cooley aColorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Abstract

Wildfire risk is greatest during high winds after sustained periods of dry and hot conditions. This paper is a statistical extreme-event risk attribution study that aims to answer whether extreme wildfire seasons are more likely now than under past climate. This requires modeling temporal dependence at extreme levels. We propose the use of transformed-linear time series models, which are constructed similarly to traditional autoregressive–moving-average (ARMA) models while having a dependence structure that is tied to a widely used framework for extremes (regular variation). We fit the models to the extreme values of the seasonally adjusted fire weather index (FWI) time series to capture the dependence in the upper tail for past and present climate. We simulate 10 000 fire seasons from each fitted model and compare the proportion of simulated high-risk fire seasons to quantify the increase in risk. Our method suggests that the risk of experiencing an extreme wildfire season in Grand Lake, Colorado, under current climate has increased dramatically relative to the risk under the climate of the mid-twentieth century. Our method also finds some evidence of increased risk of extreme wildfire seasons in Quincy, California, but large uncertainties do not allow us to reject a null hypothesis of no change.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Troy P. Wixson, twixson@rams.colostate.edu

Abstract

Wildfire risk is greatest during high winds after sustained periods of dry and hot conditions. This paper is a statistical extreme-event risk attribution study that aims to answer whether extreme wildfire seasons are more likely now than under past climate. This requires modeling temporal dependence at extreme levels. We propose the use of transformed-linear time series models, which are constructed similarly to traditional autoregressive–moving-average (ARMA) models while having a dependence structure that is tied to a widely used framework for extremes (regular variation). We fit the models to the extreme values of the seasonally adjusted fire weather index (FWI) time series to capture the dependence in the upper tail for past and present climate. We simulate 10 000 fire seasons from each fitted model and compare the proportion of simulated high-risk fire seasons to quantify the increase in risk. Our method suggests that the risk of experiencing an extreme wildfire season in Grand Lake, Colorado, under current climate has increased dramatically relative to the risk under the climate of the mid-twentieth century. Our method also finds some evidence of increased risk of extreme wildfire seasons in Quincy, California, but large uncertainties do not allow us to reject a null hypothesis of no change.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Troy P. Wixson, twixson@rams.colostate.edu
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