Climate Change Effects on Fire Risk in the Northeast U.S

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Sunday, 4 January 2015
Gaige Hunter Kerr, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; and A. T. DeGaetano

The risk of large-scale forest fires across the northeastern United States has not been, historically speaking, an area of concern. Summers are typically humid and characterized by regular precipitation events, and winter months provide snow to replenish moisture in deep soil layers and feed rivers and streams. However, hypothesized consequences of global climate change include warmer summer temperatures and drier conditions across New England. (Hayhoe et al. 2008) Thus, the changing climatology of the region coupled with the risk for extreme weather stands to alter the Northeastern United States' risk for large-scale forest fires. This research project makes use of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System (CFFWIS). We have chosen to focus on a tertiary index output by the CFFWIS, the fire weather index (FWI), for this project. The FWI combines temperature, relative humidity, wind, and precipitation values into an representative, holistic index, giving information about the rate of fire spread, fire intensity, and the amount of fuel consumed (Van Wagner 1987). FWI values for the historical period of interest (1979-2012) are calculated with the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) model, whereas future projections of FWI for the period of interest (2038-2070) are calculated using the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) AOGCM drivers nested with regional climate models. Through this research, analyses of quantities such as the numerical maximum FWI values, current and future FWI departures, and date of maximum FWI value are investigated.


Hayhoe K., Wake C., Anderson B., Liang X.Z., Maurer E., Zhu J., Bradbury J., DeGaetano A., Stoner A.M., Wuebbles D. (2008), Regional climate change projections for the Northeast USA, Mitig. Adapt. Strat. Glob. Change, 13, 425-436.

Van Wanger C.E. (1987), Development and Structure of the Canadian Forest Fire Weather Index System, report, 37 pp., Service canadien des forÍts, Ottawa, Ont.