Environmental Research Letters
Lightning-caused wildfires account for a majority of burned area across the western United States (US), yet lightning remains among the more unpredictable spatiotemporal aspects of the fire environment and a challenge for both modeling and managing fire activity. A data synthesis of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, climate and fire data across the western US from 1992 to 2013 was conducted to better understand geographic variability in lightning-caused wildfire and the factors that influence interannual variability in lightning-caused wildfire at regional scales. Distinct geographic variability occurred in the proportion of fires and area burned attributed to lightning, with a majority of fires in the interior western US attributed to lightning. Lightning ignition efficiency was highest across the western portion of the region due to the concomitance of peak lightning frequency and annual nadir in fuel moisture in mid-to-late summer. For most regions the number of total and dry lightning strikes exhibited strong interannual correlation with the number of lightning-caused fires, yet were a poor predictor of area burned at regional scales. Commonality in climate–fire relationships for regional annual area burned by lightning- versus human-ignited fires suggests climate conditions, rather than lightning activity, are the predominant control of interannual variability in area burned by lightning-caused fire across much of the western US.
Abatzoglou, John T.; Kolden, Crystal A.; Balch, Jennifer K.; and Bradley, Bethany A., "Controls on interannual variability in lightning-caused fire activity in the western US" (2016). Geography Faculty Contributions. 5.