The climatology of extreme wildfires in Portugal, 1980-2018: Contributions to forecasting and preparedness

Miguel Carmo, João P. Ferreira, Manuel T. Mendes, Álvaro Silva, Pedro Cristiano Silva, Daniela Alves, Luís Carlos Duarte Reis, Ilda Novo, Domingos Xavier Viegas

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Abstract

Available research has extensively examined the spatiotemporal patterns of fire-weather regime in Portugal, but a comprehensive climatology of extreme wildfires is still under development. This study calls for different strategies and scales of analysis aiming to describe the relationships between medium and low troposphere weather conditions and severe fire behaviour in mainland Portugal, between 1980 and 2018. In particular, critical fire-weather patterns and thresholds that can contribute to operational and forecasting know-how in short and medium time ranges are presented. We updated the general trends in the fire regime with a new, longer daily burned area series and developed a method that identifies Extreme Wildfire Periods (EWP) that form the basis for climate analysis. Synoptic analysis using Circulation Weather Types (CWT) showed that the northeasterly and easterly directional flows are significantly associated with EWP and produce the most severe fire-weather conditions. The four main CWT related to extreme fire are driven from anticyclones over the eastern Atlantic between the Azores and the British Isles. However, severe situations can also be regulated by CWT with marginal presence in both summer and EWP: low systems located to the west and northwest of Iberia carrying air masses from the south quadrant are related to catastrophic events. Regarding the antecedent climate, the results indicate that the coincident meteorological drought, whether weak or intense, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the development of an EWP. An increasing relevance of water stress for shorter intervals preceding EWP, in the order of days and weeks, is apparent. Following these results, fine dead fuel moisture thresholds related to transitions in fire behaviour in Portuguese landscapes are computed using a promising predictive moisture content model. Finally, the different methods used are summoned for the detailed analysis of an EWP starting under unusual synoptic circulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3123-3146
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal Of Climatology
Volume42
Issue number5
Early online date24 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Keywords

  • Coincident drought
  • Dead fuel moisture thresholds
  • Extreme wildfire periods
  • Fire-prone weather types
  • Western Iberia
  • Wildfires climatology

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