High winds fan big bushfires
istock_bushfire.jpg
Better understanding of the weather
conditions that cause bushfires could
result in better preparation, faster
response, and a reduction in the damage
caused.
Image: iStockphoto

Wind speed plays a bigger role than temperature in creating dangerous conditions for bushfires, says Dr Andrew Dowdy a physicist from the Bureau of Meteorology.

His work with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre has led to new possibilities for predicting bushfire conditions based on the weather. It will be presented for the first time in public this week at Fresh Science – a national science communication boot camp at the Melbourne Museum.

Andrew is one of 16 winners from across Australia.

In fact, temperature is the third-ranked factor in predicting severe bushfire weather conditions behind wind speed and low humidity, Andrew says. He hopes that a greater understanding of weather conditions associated with bushfires will result in better preparation, faster response and a reduction in the damage they cause.

“In future, we hope people will be thinking, ‘Tomorrow is going to be windy, dry and hot so it could be dangerous for bushfires’ rather than just focussing on the temperature.”

As a practical outcome of this research, a publicly available website has been set up with maps of bushfire weather forecasts throughout Australia, together with ratings in terms of local climate. It is at http://www.cawcr.gov.au/projects/fire_wx/index.php.

The work was funded by the Bushfire CRC.

Andrew has also studied the occurrence of fires caused by lightning, particularly “dry-lightning” that occurs without significant rainfall.

This research is the first ever systematic examination of the association between lightning and fires ever undertaken in Australia.

One outcome is a method for predicting the likelihood of dry lightning in Australia, as well as for indicating the chance that a fire could be caused by lightning.

Andrew Dowdy is one of 16 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Australian Government and hosted by the Melbourne Museum.


Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.