Lightning and Fires in the Northwest Territories and Responses to Future Climate Change
Keywords: lightning, thunderstorms, forest fires, climate change, Northwest Territories
AbstractLightning and fire characteristics within the Northwest Territories (NWT) jurisdiction of the Mackenzie Basin between 1994 and 1999 are examined using data from the lightning detection network operating in the NWT and from the national Large Fire Database maintained by the Canadian Forest Service. The convective storm season with associated lightning activity over this region is short but intense, with a strong peak in cloud-to-ground lightning during July. The maximum area of lightning activity is influenced by local moisture sources and by topography. The diurnal distribution of cloud-to-ground flashes indicates that most of the lightning was linked to thunderstorms initiated by daytime heating. The lightning-initiated fire occurrences peaked during July, while much of the burned area was produced in June. The longer, warmer, and drier summer seasons projected to result from climate change are expected to increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires by the end of the 21st century. Their considerable consequences for forests and wildlife make these changes a concern for northern communities, forest managers, and wildlife biologists.