Decadal Trends in Regional Drought, and Its Connection with Wildfire Burn Severity in California


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Significant increases in wildfire events in the western United States along with longer and more intense periods of drought have been a focus of climate scientists for the last several decades. This thesis will investigate the relationship between wildfire burn severity, and monthly and seasonal drought. The scope of this investigation is as follows: Does a significant relationship exist between total acres burned and drought in California, as measured by Palmer and Standard Precipitation drought indices? Using statistical significance testing, a relationship is analyzed over a thirty-six-year time frame (1984- 2019), connecting burn severity acreage, with regional accumulated drought indices. The regional area of study is defined by fires and drought overlapping, and within the boundary of California. When sampling at the highest frequency of monthly intervals from 1984-2019, significant correlation is not found when comparing the entire dataset of drought versus total acres burned by wildfire. However, targeted time-scales yield significant correlations when evaluating drought and total acres burned at 3 month seasonal intervals, especially with spring and summer (March-September). Similar results demonstrated strong correlation coefficients with consecutive off-set seasonal comparisons.