Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-143
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2021-143

  10 Jun 2021

10 Jun 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Past and future trends in fire weather for the UK

Matthew Charles Perry1, Emilie Vanvyve1, Richard A. Betts1,2, and Erika J. Palin1 Matthew Charles Perry et al.
  • 1Met Office, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  • 2Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter, Laver Building, North Park Road, Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK

Abstract. Past and future trends in the frequency of high danger fire weather conditions have been analysed for the UK. An analysis of satellite-derived burned area data from the last 18 years has identified the seasonal cycle with a peak in spring and a secondary peak in summer, the high level of interannual variability, and the lack of a significant trend despite some large events occurring in the last few years. These results were confirmed with a longer series of fire weather indices back to 1979. The Initial Spread Index (ISI) has been used for spring, as this reflects the moisture of fine fuel surface vegetation, whereas conditions conducive to summer wildfires are hot, dry weather reflected in the moisture of deeper organic layers which is encompassed in the Fire Weather Index (FWI).

Future projections are assessed using an ensemble of regional climate models from the UK Climate Projections, combining variables to derive the fire weather indices. The results show a large increase in hazardous fire weather conditions in summer. At 2 °C global warming relative to 1850–1900, the frequency of days with “very high” fire danger is projected to double compared to a recent historical period. This frequency increases by 5 times at 4 °C of global warming. Smaller increases are projected for spring, with a 150 % increase for England at 2 °C of global warming and a doubling at 4 °C. A particularly large projected increase for late summer and early autumn suggests a possible extension of the wildfire season, depending on fuel availability.

These results suggest that wildfire can be considered an “emergent risk” for the UK, as past events have not had widespread major impacts, but this could change in future. The large increase in risk between the 2 °C and 4 °C levels of global warming highlights the importance of global efforts to keep warming below 2 °C.

Matthew Charles Perry et al.

Status: open (until 22 Jul 2021)

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Matthew Charles Perry et al.

Matthew Charles Perry et al.

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Short summary
In the past, wildfires in the UK have occurred mainly in spring, with occasional events during hot, dry summers. Climate models predict a large future increase in hazardous fire weather conditions in summer. Wildfire can be considered an “emergent risk” for the UK, as past events have not had widespread major impacts, but this could change in future. The large increase in risk between the 2 °C and 4 °C levels of global warming highlights the importance of global efforts to keep warming below 2 °C.
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