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Soil Moisture and Wildfire - Improving Fire Danger Rating Systems: November 16, 2022

Event Date
November 16, 2022
Event Time
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network (NCSMMN) is hosting a quarterly online seminar series to regularly share innovative soil moisture research activities. This seminar focused on opportunities for applying soil moisture information to inform fire danger rating systems. 

Few existing fire danger rating systems incorporate soil moisture information, even though such information is increasingly available and has been shown to help improve predictions of fuel loads, fuel moisture, wildfire probability, and wildfire size. This seminar provided a summary of the growing body of evidence indicating the benefits of including soil moisture information in fire danger rating systems, addresses some of the unique challenges to using soil moisture information in those systems, and provided suggestions for addressing these challenges.  

For more information, please email Marina Skumanich (


Welcome and Introduction

Speaker: Marina Skumanich, NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network

  • Introduction to the seminar series. Today's topic is soil moisture and wildfire, specifically the opportunities to improve fire danger rating systems.
  • Overview of the National Coordinated Soil Moisture Monitoring Network (NCSMMN): Coordinated, high-quality nationwide soil moisture information for the public good.



Using Soil Moisture Information to Better Understand and Predict Wildfire Danger

Speaker: Tyson Ochsner, Oklahoma State University

This presentation included an overview of soil moisture and wildfire research, with a focus on opportunities to apply soil moisture information to improve fire danger rating systems and fire management. 

  • Read the abstract of the researchers' article in the International Journal of Wildland Fire.
  • Our motivating question: How can increasingly available soil moisture information be used to better manage the impacts of fire on people and ecosystems?
  • A decade-long journey of discovery:
    • Soil moisture affects growing-season wildfire size in the southern Great Plains (Krueger et al., 2015).
    • Concurrent and antecedent soil moisture related differently to wildfire in different seasons (Krueger et al., 2016).
    • Soil moisture is a better growing-season wildfire predictor than the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI), a widely used drought index (Krueger et al., 2017).
    • Grassland fuel moisture and curing are strongly linked to soil moisture (Sharma et al., 2020).
    • Soil moisture information can help improve predictions of grassland fuel loads (Krueger et al., 2021).
  • The current situation: A growing body of research provides strong evidence that soil moisture is a key predictor of wildfire danger that has not yet been effectively integrated into fire danger rating.
  • Some key remaining questions:
    • How can we best represent soil moisture (absolute values, fraction of available water [FAW], anomalies, percentiles, etc.)? 
    • What are the most relevant soil depths to consider? 
    • How can in situ, remotely sensed, and modeled soil moisture data best be utilized? 
    • How can soil moisture conditions predict burning of organic soils? 
    • How do soil moisture conditions influence prescribed fires? 
    • How can wildfire professionals be convinced and enabled to use soil moisture information?



High-Resolution Daily Gridded Soil Moisture Modeling for the Conterminous U.S.

Speaker: Zach Holden, U.S. Forest Service Region 1

This presentation focused on Topofire, a high-resolution (250-meter) modeling system being used to develop a revised version of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI; used by the U.S. Forest Service to determine forest fire potential in the coterminous U.S.) that accounts for snow melt, soil moisture, and evapotranspiration. 



General Discussion



End of Seminar

Read the abstract for a soon-to-be available review article on this topic by the seminar presenters and others: 

Krueger et. al. 2022. Using Soil Moisture Information to Better Understand and Predict Wildfire Danger: A Review of Recent Developments and Outstanding Questions, International Journal of Wildland Fire.