3.3 Weather Effects Contributing to the Bastrop Complex Wildfire and Community Impacts

Tuesday, 8 January 2013: 2:00 PM
Ballroom E (Austin Convention Center)
Monte C. Oaks, NOAA/NWS, New Braunfels, TX; and G. P. Murdoch

The Bastrop Complex Wildfire caused two fatalities, burned 32,400 acres, 1660 homes, and an estimated $209 million in damage from 4-9 September, 2011. This was the third largest wildland urban interface fire in U.S. history at the time of occurrence, and the most devastating in Texas history. Weather effects began on a climate scale as Texas experienced a multi-year drought and concentrated summer heat wave, which set the stage for cured fuels, well above normal temperatures, and well-below normal near surface humidity. Shorter range weather effects were coalesced under a rare Tropical Storm Type fire weather pattern, where subsidence and strong winds on the periphery of a tropical cyclone (Tropical Strom Lee) induced even further reduction in humidity, and increased boundary layer winds and instability – leading to extreme fire behavior. While this combination of long and short term effects is rare, it is recurrent and therefore has the potential to be better anticipated in the future. The devastating effects from this Tropical Storm Type fire weather pattern, consistent with those seen from other critical fire weather patterns recently observed over parts of West Texas and the Southern Plains reveals a need to further clarify the enhanced wildfire threat produced by drought and tropical storms over a variety of vegetation types and land use areas. In the wake of the fire additional lessons learned and best practices regarding the wildland urban interface, communication between emergency management and citizens (especially through the Internet and social media), prescribed burning, and clearing/removal of ignition and fuel sources near structures will be discussed.
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