3 Firestorm: The Anatomy of a Southern Great Plains Wildfire Outbreak

Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Meeting Room 2 (Holiday Inn University Plaza)
T. Todd Lindley, NOAA/NWSFO, Amarillo, TX; and G. P. Murdoch and B. R. Smith

Handout (3.2 MB)

The grasslands of the southern Great Plains are vulnerable to widespread outbreaks of destructive wind-driven wildfires. Since 2005, a total of 18 southern Great Plains wildfire outbreaks have cumulatively burned 3.9 million acres (1.6 million ha), killed 27 people and injured more than 200 others. The Texas A&M Forest Service has referred to these outbreaks as “a perfect storm for extreme fire…a force of nature that is truly beyond our capability to do anything about”, and has termed the most violent outbreaks to impact the state “firestorms”. This study will dissect the biophysical and atmospheric anatomy of a southern Great Plains wildfire outbreak. Seasonal climatic variability and vegetative fuel regimes that preceded the historic fire outbreaks of 2011 will be shown as a model for favorable antecedent conditions conducive to ‘firestorms' on the southern Great Plains. A meteorological analysis of the 27 February 2011 ‘firestorm' will illustrate weather that promotes fire outbreaks in the region, and is shown to be consistent with pre-existing atmospheric composites of past extreme fire episodes.
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