Wednesday, 14 November 2001: 11:30 AM
Facilitating use of climate information for wildfire decision-making in the U.S. Southwest
Over the past two decades, in large part due to notable advances in El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-based forecasting, public awareness of climate forecasting has increased substantially. ENSO-based forecasts are most effective for the winter half-year in the U.S. Southwest; summer half-year forecasting, by contrast, remains less skillful. Recognizing both the potentials and pitfalls of issuing and using wildfire-based climate forecasts, the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) project initiated a series of workshops in February 2000 to facilitate dialogue between climatologists and fire-decision managers. CLIMAS, in collaboration with the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the program for Climate, Ecosystem and Fire Applications, and the U.S. Forest Service, has held three workshops to date. Each of these workshops has provided valuable insights into how to ensure that wildfire managers not only receive the climate information they need, as well as when and where they need it, but also that they have the basic knowledge needed to appropriately interpret and use the information provided.
In this paper we review the rationale behind the design of the workshops and summarize the outcomes to date. We evaluate the workshop process in terms of its success in establishing ongoing dialogue between the two communities, and in terms of moving both climatologists and wildfire experts along the rather steep learning curve associated with delivering, interpreting, evaluating, and using climate information for wildfire planning and management. We also provide a brief overview of current and planned research on climate and fire in the Southwest, arising from the outcomes of the workshops.