Wildfire Projections in Interior Alaska

Smoke from a wildfire in Alaska
Duration: 
Aug 2018

Information need

Fire managers need wildfire forecasts at seasonal and multi-year time scales.

Why are we doing this?

  • Higher temperatures and decreasing snowpack are expected to lead to drier conditions and  more wildfires in Interior Alaska.
  • There is a mismatch between management needs and available forecasts. The BLM Alaska Fire Service (AFS) plans for fire over seasonal and 1-to-3 year time frames. Seasonally, AFS needs to make decisions about hiring and deployment of personnel and resources, but budgeting decisions may need to be made several years in advance.
  • Managers need better information on the likelihood of widespread fire in any given year, including forecasts of fire weather indices and lightning ignition risk.

Approach

Given the challenges of high-latitude fire forecasting for seasonal and multi-year time frames, the AK CASC will approach the question of wildfire potential forecasting on three fronts:

  1. In consultation with AFS, AK CASC researchers will select seasonal fire weather indices that will be computed from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) hindcasts. These indices will be evaluated for their forecast skill.
  2. Researchers will use historical data to statistically model the likelihood of significant fires given current and past conditions. Both sets of forecasts will be explored with AFS to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and then modified in response to stakeholder comments.
  3. The AK CASC will produce 20- and 40-year fire weather forecasts using dynamically downscaled 20-km resolution daily climate projections to provide a long-term context and a starting point for discussion of the one-to-three-year forecasts, which require using state-of-the art climate science techniques. The AK CASC will also evaluate statistical approaches to producing one-to-three year forecasts, using components of the climate system that impact Alaska, such as Northern Pacific sea-surface temperatures and sea ice cover, that tend to vary at lower frequency.

Partners

BLM Alaska Fire Service, NOAA National Weather Service Alaska Region, State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources