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Climatology and Meteorological Evolution of Major Wildfire Events over the Northeast United States

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  • 1 School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York
  • | 2 USDA Forest Service, East Lansing, Michigan
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Abstract

This study presents a spatial and temporal climatology of major wildfire events, defined as >100 acres burned (>40.47 ha, where 1 ha = 2.47 acre), in the northeast United States from 1999 to 2009 and the meteorological conditions associated with these events. The northeast United States is divided into two regions: region 1 is centered over the higher terrain of the northeast United States and region 2 is primarily over the coastal plain. About 59% of all wildfire events in these two regions occur in April and May, with ~76% in region 1 and ~53% in region 2. There is large interannual variability in wildfire frequency, with some years having 4–5 times more fire events than other years. The synoptic flow patterns associated with northeast United States wildfires are classified using the North American Regional Reanalysis. The most common synoptic pattern for region 1 is a surface high pressure system centered over the northern Appalachians, which occurred in approximately 46% of all events. For region 2, the prehigh anticyclone type extending from southeast Canada and the Great Lakes to the northeast United States is the most common pattern, occurring in about 46% of all events. A trajectory analysis highlights the influence of large-scale subsidence and decreasing relative humidity during the events, with the prehigh pattern showing the strongest subsidence and downslope drying in the lee of the Appalachians.

Current affiliation: NOAA/National Weather Service Forecast Office, Upton, New York.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Brian A. Colle, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000. E-mail: brian.colle@stonybrook.edu

Abstract

This study presents a spatial and temporal climatology of major wildfire events, defined as >100 acres burned (>40.47 ha, where 1 ha = 2.47 acre), in the northeast United States from 1999 to 2009 and the meteorological conditions associated with these events. The northeast United States is divided into two regions: region 1 is centered over the higher terrain of the northeast United States and region 2 is primarily over the coastal plain. About 59% of all wildfire events in these two regions occur in April and May, with ~76% in region 1 and ~53% in region 2. There is large interannual variability in wildfire frequency, with some years having 4–5 times more fire events than other years. The synoptic flow patterns associated with northeast United States wildfires are classified using the North American Regional Reanalysis. The most common synoptic pattern for region 1 is a surface high pressure system centered over the northern Appalachians, which occurred in approximately 46% of all events. For region 2, the prehigh anticyclone type extending from southeast Canada and the Great Lakes to the northeast United States is the most common pattern, occurring in about 46% of all events. A trajectory analysis highlights the influence of large-scale subsidence and decreasing relative humidity during the events, with the prehigh pattern showing the strongest subsidence and downslope drying in the lee of the Appalachians.

Current affiliation: NOAA/National Weather Service Forecast Office, Upton, New York.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Brian A. Colle, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000. E-mail: brian.colle@stonybrook.edu
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