Climate and Fire Session Abstracts (Saturday)

1:30pm - 2:00pm // KEYNOTE: Climate Perspective on the Wet May and October of 2015 // John Nielsen-Gammon // Texas A&M University

In both May and October 2015, Texas received record-setting rainfall. May was the wettest month on record, and October saw the wettest storm system on record. Both El Niño and climate change contributed to these events in their own ways.

2:00pm - 2:15pm // Antecedent and Meteorological Conditions Conducive to Significant Wildfires in West Texas// Todd Lindley // NWS Norman

Since 2005, the plains of west Texas have truly experienced a decade of fire. This presentation will address the antecedent conditions, both environmental and meteorological, that conspired to produce such anomalous wildland fire activity.

Long-term changes in population and land use have contributed to an evolution of the southern Great Plains fire regime, which culminated in variations of seasonal precipitation that primed the grass-dominant fuelscape for episodic burning. To illustrate meteorological conditions conducive to widespread and violent wildfire outbreaks in west Texas, a composite analysis of favorable thermodynamic and synoptic flow patterns will be presented. Results from a statistical analysis will then be shown, detailing temperature, wind, and humidity in the near-fire environment for significant grassland fires, as well as their climatological tendencies. Of course, vegetative fuels equally influence wildland fire behavior and significant wildfire potential. Current research focused on quantifying the fire effectiveness of fuels using Energy Release Component (ERC, fuel model G) will be shown to provide skill in determining environments favorable for damaging wildfires. Finally, a framework for transitioning current National Weather Service fire weather forecasts and warnings toward a probabilistic total fire environment paradigm will be proposed.

2:15pm - 2:30pm // The Impact of a Flash Drought on West Central Texas Wildfires// Mike Johnson // NWS San Angelo

Widespread heavy rainfall during May and June resulted in a marked improvement in drought conditions across the Lone Star State. Drought conditions had been largely eliminated by mid-July. The remainder of the summer was marked by very hot and dry conditions across the state. This prolonged dry spell contributed to a ‘flash drought’. A flash drought is one that occurs rapidly with a corresponding increase in surface temperatures. The abundant vegetation that benefited from spring rainfall quickly cured, providing ample fuel for wildfires. Numerous wildfires started between late July and mid-October across the National Weather Service San Angelo County Warning Area, burning approximately 50,000 acres despite the absence of Red Flag Warning criteria.

This highlights the need for enhanced decision support services since criteria-driven headlines may not sufficiently convey anticipated impacts. The San Angelo Weather Forecast Office experienced a significant increase in fire weather spot forecast requests from the Texas Forest Service during this period, providing site specific weather forecasts to those in the field. This unusual late summer fire weather season resulted in significant cost, both in dollars and manpower.

2:30pm - 2:45pm // A Doppler Radar and Conceptual Analysis of a Horizontal Longitudinal Vortex Influencing the Bastrop Complex Wildfire // Greg Murdoch // NWS Midland

The Bastrop Complex Wildfire (BCW) occurred during the record-breaking Texas drought of 2011. Although the 13,903 ha (34,356 ac) fire burned an area well shy of the state’s largest wildfires with respect to size, it was the largest wildland fire on record in central Texas and the resultant property losses were unprecedented in Texas’ fire history. The BCW is of meteorological interest because of its simultaneous occurrence and interaction with a transient ambient Horizontal Longitudinal Vortex (HLV). Fire weather forecasters are familiar with the detriment that convection, instability, thermal ridges, and wind shifts can be to fires. In the realm of fire weather, the HLV is a lesser known form of convection. There are opportunities to further develop tactical fire weather tools and apply them to the near fire environment for the conveyance of short-term impact based decisions for firefighters. The HLV is one of those opportunities. Doppler radar detects both fire debris plumes and HLVs thus providing a unique set of data to observe the interaction of the two. The BCW represents the first documented case of this interaction in Texas and provides an opportunity to increase awareness of the HLV among those responsible for providing tactical impact based fire weather support.

2:45pm - 3:00pm // Weather Radar Surveillance of Pest Insect Migration // John Westbrook // USDA-ARS

Because migrating pest insects fly at high altitudes, they generally escape detection before infesting fields. Although Doppler weather radars can measure transmitted energy reflected by migrating insects as well as by precipitation, additional knowledge of migrant insect flight activity, behavior, and backscattering properties is needed to develop radar detection algorithms for insects. We describe a research study that seeks to reveal nocturnal and seasonal patterns of insect flight activity and flight behavior using WSR-88D Doppler weather radar, vertical-looking insect-classifying radar, and atmospheric sounding measurements. Insect classification measurements include the aerial density, mass, heading, displacement speed, displacement direction, and shape of migrating insects. Successful development of insect detection algorithms for Doppler weather radars within the NEXRAD network may lead to predictions of pest insect migrations that alert crop producers and pest managers about the expected timing, location, and intensity of pest infestations.