Severe fire weather is a major determinant of fire size in coastal California; however, it is unclear to what extent antecedent climate also controls fire activity. This study investigates the relationship between fire activity and climate in central coastal and southern California. Climate variables included the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), total monthly precipitation, mean monthly maximum temperature and the autumn and winter Southern Oscillation Indices (SOI). For both the central coast and the south coast regions there was no significant relationship between growing season PDSI, precipitation or temperature and number of fires. When examined by season, summer temperatures were positively correlated with number of fires in the central coast and autumn PDSI and precipitation were negatively correlated with fire occurrence in the south coast region. Area burned was not correlated with any current year climate variables in southern California although, in the central coast, drought during spring and autumn were correlated, but explained less than 10% of the variation in the area burned. Although there was a modest relationship between the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and local climate parameters, there was only a relatively weak relationship with fire activity. The importance of autumn foehn winds is illustrated by the observation that large fires occur most commonly during the autumn, regardless of PDSI. Antecedent climate, however, does appear to play some role in determining the length of the fire season on these landscape as PDSI is consistently related to the occurrence of large fires that occur before or after the autumn months.
Additional publication details
Impact of antecedent climate on fire regimes in coastal California