Articles | Volume 12, issue 3
Research article
23 Mar 2012
Research article |  | 23 Mar 2012

Sensitivity of fire weather index to different reanalysis products in the Iberian Peninsula

J. Bedia, S. Herrera, J. M. Gutiérrez, G. Zavala, I. R. Urbieta, and J. M. Moreno

Abstract. Wildfires are a major concern on the Iberian Peninsula, and the establishment of effective prevention and early warning systems are crucial to reduce impacts and losses. Fire weather indices are daily indicators of fire danger based upon meteorological information. However, their application in many studies is conditioned to the availability of sufficiently large climatological time series over extensive geographical areas and of sufficient quality. Furthermore, wind and relative humidity, important for the calculation of fire spread and fuel flammability parameters, are relatively scarce data. For these reasons, different reanalysis products are often used for the calculation of surrogate fire danger indices, although the agreement with those derived from observations remains as an open question to be addressed.

In this study, we analyze this problem focusing on the Canadian Fire Weather Index (FWI) – and the associated Seasonal Severity Rating (SSR) – and considering three different reanalysis products of varying resolutions on the Iberian Peninsula: NCEP, ERA-40 and ERA-Interim. Besides the inter-comparison of the resulting FWI/SSR values, we also study their correspondence with observational data from 7 weather stations in Spain and their sensitivity to the input parameters (precipitation, temperature, relative humidity and wind velocity).

As a general result, ERA-Interim reproduces the observed FWI magnitudes with better accuracy than NCEP, with lower/higher correlations in the coast/inland locations. For instance, ERA-Interim summer correlations are above 0.5 in inland locations – where higher FWI magnitudes are attained – whereas the corresponding values for NCEP are below this threshold. Nevertheless, departures from the observed distributions are generally found in all reanalysis, with a general tendency to underestimation, more pronounced in the case of NCEP. In spite of these limitations, ERA-Interim may still be useful for the identification of extreme fire danger events. (e.g. those above the 90th percentile value) and for the definition of danger levels/classes (with level thresholds adapted to the observed/reanalysis distributions).