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Changes to the drivers of fire weather with a warming climate – a case study of southeast Tasmania


Projected changes to the global climate system have great implications for the incidence of large infrequent fires in many regions. Here we examine the synoptic-scale and local-scale influences on the incidence of extreme fire weather days and consider projections of the large-scale mean climate to explore future fire weather projections. We focus on a case study region with periodic extreme fire dangers; southeast Tasmania, Australia. We compare the performance of a dynamically downscaled regional climate model with Global Climate Model outputs as a tool for examining the local-scale influences while accounting for high regional variability. Many of the worst fires in Tasmania and the southeast Australian region are associated with deep cold fronts and strong prefrontal winds. The downscaled simulations reproduce this synoptic type with greater fidelity than a typical global climate model. The incidence of systems in this category is projected to increase through the century under a high emission scenario, driven mainly by an increase in the temperature of air masses, with little change in the strength of the systems. The regional climate model projected increase in frequency is smaller than for the global climate models used as input, with a large model range and natural variability. We also demonstrate how a blocking Foehn effect and topographic channelling contributed to the extreme conditions during an extreme fire weather day in Tasmania in January 2013. Effects such as these are likely to contribute to high fire danger throughout the century. Regional climate models are useful tools that enable various meteorological drivers of fire danger to be considered in projections of future fire danger.

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The work was supported by a grant from the National Disaster Resilience Program (NDRP) administered through the Tasmanian State Emergency Service (SES). The work was supported by the Australian government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program through the ACE CRC. This work builds upon the Climate Futures for Tasmania project.

Model outputs provided by Stuart Corney, Jack Katzfey and John McGregor, advice from Graham Mills, William Budd and Ben Galton-Fenzi.

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Correspondence to Michael R. Grose.

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Grose, M.R., Fox-Hughes, P., Harris, R.M.B. et al. Changes to the drivers of fire weather with a warming climate – a case study of southeast Tasmania. Climatic Change 124, 255–269 (2014).

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