Fire across scales: from pyrotornadoes to the emergence of global fire weather indices in the anthropocene — Dr. John Abatzoglou

Menzies Lecture Theatre 1
Medical Sciences Building 1, Room 105
17 Liverpool St, Hobart
14 Dec 2018

The Fire Centre Research Hub and the University of Tasmania are proud to present the second iteration of the Fire Centre Seminar Series. This time we welcome Dr. John Abatzoglou, a climate scientist at the University of Idaho in the USA to talk about pyrotornadoes and global climate indices.

Here’s a recording of the seminar for those of you who missed it:


This talk presents two results from two recent studies focusing on the influence of atmospheric processes in enabling and driving fire at different scales. The first study examines evidence for a tornado coincident with a fire that occurred in late July of 2018 in northern California resulting in catastrophic damage. Pairing radar and satellite data with surface observations and model data provides a solid evidence of tornado-like characteristics that developed in-situ along the fire front in a region of mesoscale circulation. Data suggests that the rapid development of a pyrocumulonimbus helped facilitated the vortex, while record setting temperatures and cured fuels hastened fire intensity. The second study takes a global view and asks when and where anthropogenic climate change will cause fire weather indices to emerge from their historic range of variability that may help facilitate transitions in fire regimes. We find that the number of days of extreme fire danger shows eminent emergence for about a quart of burnable lands globally and over 60% by the mid-21st century. Emergence of heightened fire weather becomes more widespread as a function of global temperature change. At 2°C above pre‐industrial levels, the area of emergence is half that for 3°C.


Dr. Abatzoglou is an associate professor of Geography at the University of Idaho. John’s academic interests are centered around climate and weather and their impacts to people and natural resources. John and his Climatology Lab [] at the University of Idaho conduct work on basic climate science and meteorology, as well as applied work on water resources, ecosystems, and agriculture. The research group also develops web-based climate services that connect climate data with decision makers to help improve climate readiness of societies and ecosystems. During his sabbatical, John plans to extend his work to global scales focusing on pyrogeographical patterns of downslope wind storms, and the influence of cut-off lows on global hydroclimate.