The Florida Climate Center and the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) have been leaders in the research of climate variability in North America, particularly as related to the El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Given that wildfire activity is intimately linked with temperature and precipitation patterns, it naturally follows that ENSO would also have an impact on annual wildfire occurrences. This relationship holds especially true for Florida and the Southeast United States, where there is a strong connection between ENSO and climate during the winter and spring months which overlaps the traditional wildfire season in this region.
COAPS first cooperated with the Florida Division of Forestry in a research project identifying the connection between ENSO and wildfire burn acreage in Florida. COAPS has since extended that research and developed a prototype wildfire risk forecast system for Florida and the Southeast under research grants from the Florida Division of Forestry and the USDA Forest Service.
The wildfire risk forecast is based on ENSO phase and the Keetch-Byram Drought Index (KBDI). The KBDI was developed by foresters in the Southeast and represents water available in the upper layers of the soil. The KBDI is used extensively in forestry and wildfire applications. The wildfire risk forecast gives monthly probabilities of the KBDI reaching critical values from January through July, coinciding with the traditional wildfire season in the Southeast. The forecast is released in January each year, and updated throughout the season. Results are available on www.agroclimate.org and are presented each year at the National Seasonal Assessment Workshop, sponsored by the National Interagency Coordination Center. Ongoing support for this project comes from the NOAA RISA program and USDA Risk Management Agency.