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Flash Characteristics and Precipitation Metrics of Western U.S. Lightning-Initiated Wildfires from 2017

Author(s): Brittany R. MacNamara, Christopher J. Schultz, Henry E. Fuelberg
Year Published: 2020

This study examines 95 lightning-initiated wildfires and 1170 lightning flashes in the western United States between May and October 2017 to characterize lightning and precipitation rates and totals near the time of ignition. Eighty-nine percent of the wildfires examined were initiated by negative cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning flashes, and 66% of those fire starts were due to single stroke flashes. Average flash density at the fire locations was 1.1 fl km−2. The fire start locations were a median distance of 5.3 km away from the maximum flash and stroke densities in the 400 km2 area surrounding the fire start location. Fire start locations were observed to have a smaller 2-min precipitation rate and 24-h total rainfall than non-fire start locations. The median 2‑min rainfall rate for fire-starting (FS) flash locations was 1.7 mm h−1, while the median for non-fire-starting (NFS) flash locations was 4.7 mm h−1. The median total 24-h precipitation value for FS flash locations was 2.9 mm, while NFS flash locations exhibited a median of 8.6 mm. Wilcoxon–Mann–Whitney rank sum testing revealed statistically different Z-Scores/p-values for the FS and NFS flash populations. These values were −5.578/1.21 × 10−8 and −7.176/3.58 × 10−13 for the 2-min precipitation rate and 24-h total rainfall, respectively. Additionally, 24-h and 2-min precipitation rates were statistically significantly greater for holdover versus non-holdover fire events. The median distances between the fire start location and greatest 2-min precipitation rate and greatest 24-h precipitation total were 7.4 and 10.1 km, respectively.

Citation: MacNamara, Brittany R.; Schultz, Christopher J.; Fuelberg, Henry E. 2020. Flash characteristics and precipitation metrics of western U.S. lightning-initiated wildfires from 2017. Fire 3(1):5. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire3010005
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20795
FRAMES RCS number: 60809
Record updated: Mar 10, 2020