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Disentangling Complex Interactions and Feedbacks Among Droughts, Fires, and Snowpack in the Western U.S. by Integrating Observations and Models

NIDIS Supported Research
NIDIS-Supported Research
Main Summary

This project’s goal is to quantify the complex interactions and feedbacks between droughts, fires, and snowpack in the western U.S. by integrating observations and models. This will help improve predictions and projections of drought characteristics and impacts. 

Droughts have significant impacts on climate and human systems, causing substantial damages to the environment and socio-economic development. Snowpack and fires, two key elements affecting hydroclimatic and socio-economic systems, can interact with and feed back to droughts in complicated ways, particularly in the western U.S. For example, observations (e.g., Abatzoglou and Kolden, 2013) have shown strong correlations between burned area and drought index, snow water equivalent, and soil moisture over the Rocky Mountains in the past decades. 

Moreover, western U.S. droughts have become more frequent and this trend is expected to continue, along with increasing fires and declining snowpack. However, our current understanding of the interactions and feedbacks among droughts, fires, and snowpack is still very limited, which hinders accurate predictions and projections of U.S. droughts and related hydroclimatic and socio-economic effects. 

This project will address three key scientific questions and tasks:

  • What are the quantitative characteristics and relationships of droughts, fires, and snowpack evolution in the western U.S. based on observations?
  • How well do state-of-the-art models capture the characteristics and relationships of droughts, fires, and snowpack evolution in the western U.S.? 
  • What are the mechanisms for drought-fire-snowpack interactions and feedback in the western U.S.? 

This project is part of the MAPP/NIDIS supported Drought Task Force IV

For more information, please contact Amanda Sheffield ( and Marina Skumanich (

Research Snapshot

Research Timeline
September 2020–August 2023
Principal Investigator(s)
Cenlin He, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
Project Funding
Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) FY 2020

What to expect from this research

Key Regions