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Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest: May 24, 2021

Event Date
May 24, 2021
Event Time
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

The Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest was designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on the current drought status and outlook and wildland fire potential outlook.

This was a special joint region webinar, combining the California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar Series and Southwest Drought Briefings, which are produced by the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub.


Welcome to the Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest

Speaker: Amanda Sheffield, NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), CIRES

  • Welcome to the May Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest.
  • A May 2021 Southwest and California Drought Status Update is available here



Drought and Climate Update and Outlook

Speaker: Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center

  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of May 18, 92.54% of the Southwest (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona) is in drought, with 37.65% in Exceptional Drought (D4). One year ago, this was 48.83% and 0%, respectively. 
  • D3–D4 intensification is especially notable. California, in particular, has seen drought intensify over the past year. 
  • Drought has been reoccurring across the Southwest over the past 20 years, with breaks of less drought present. Last year’s record temperature contributed to last year’s drought development.
  • NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts show higher odds of above-normal temperatures across the Southwest, focused on the 4 corners, and equal chances to below-normal precipitation odds. 
  • Overall, the seasonal (May 20–August 31) drought outlook shows drought persisting across the Southwest, with drought development likely in southeastern Colorado. Key determinants for this summer will be the development of the monsoon and summer temperatures.



Wildland Fire Potential Outlook

Speaker: Chuck Maxwell, Predictive Services Manager, Southwest Coordination Center

  • Predictive Services' mission is decision support for fire management and the national coordination system. They provide monthly updated outlooks forecasting above or below normal significant fire potential for the next 4 months. Each predictive service area has a significant fire size or threshold for what is significant.
  • Drought impacts on fire potential are not straightforward. Severe/long-term drought: 
    • Increases fire danger in areas with forest and/or brush vegetation
    • Can impact surface water availability
    • Can limit or prevent the growth of grasses, where fires tend to start and spread.
  • Above-normal significant fire potential "rotates" west through the summer:
    • Above-normal significant fire potential exists for much of the Southwest area through June. Southwest monsoon should return the Southwest/Four Corners towards normal fire potential in July and August.
    • Above-normal potential shifts west and north June through August in the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain areas.
    • The mountains and foothills of California are expected to have above-normal potential June through August.
  • The updated National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlooks will be released June 1.



Question & Answer



How Do Drought and Vegetation Recovery Influence Post-Wildfire Hazards?

Speaker: Luke McGuire, University of Arizona

  • The impacts of wildfire continue long after the wildfire ends.
  • Post-fire debris flow potential decreases with time since burning.
  • The timing and location of post-fire vegetation recovery is a key variable in determining debris flow potential. 
  • Click here for more information on this NIDIS-supported research project.



Post-Wildfire Resources

Speaker: Emile Elias, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Southwest Climate Hub



Question & Answer




Speaker: Amanda Sheffield, NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), CIRES