Causes and implications of extreme atmospheric moisture demand during the record-breaking 2011 wildfire season in the southwestern United States
The authors examined the large-scale climate processes driving drought and high vapor pressure deficit (VPD) during the extreme fire season of 2011. They further projected future climate conditions to determine if projected trends in an ensemble of climate variables may resemble conditions from the 2011 fire season in future years.
During the 2011 fire season, which was characterized by record-breaking area burned in the southwest, temperature was not anomalously warm, however low precipitation led to exceptionally low atmospheric moisture content and subsequent record-breaking VPD. The authors’ model projections show that the climate conditions like those exhibited in 2011 are likely to occur more frequently in coming decades as temperatures are predicted to increase. The authors suggest increasing trends in VPD could lead to increasingly common catastrophic wildfires if fuels are not limiting.