Weather Effects

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Sensitivity to weather drives Great Basin mesic resources and greater sage-grouse productivity

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We found the predicted positive relationship between mesic habitat availability and sage-grouse productivity, but annual precipitation explained additional variation in productivity even after accounting for mesic habitat availability. Hence, precipitation and drought may drive sage-grouse productivity via more than one mechanism acting on multiple demographic rates. Productivity was also limited by exotic annual grass invasion and conifer encroachment. Mesic habitat availability was a function of topographic relief, mean elevation, annual mean snow water equivalent, and winter temperatures, indicating that snowpack recharges the late summer mesic resources that support sage-grouse productivity. Management actions focused on maintaining and restoring mesic resources and drought resilient habitats, limiting the spread of exotic annual grasses, and reversing conifer encroachment should support future sage-grouse recruitment and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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Lightning fire occurrence prediction: Modelling for operational use

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Wotton, Canadian Forest Service, explains lightning fire ignition and the important processes that determine the day-to-day variation of this important source of summertime fire activity in Canada. This presentation is for both academic and operational audiences in Canada’s wildfire community.

Examples from models developed and used in Ontario’s fire occurrence prediction system were provided as well as some comparisons to similar model development in other regions of the country. Reviewing the history and operational use of these models in Ontario provides useful examples of the challenges and opportunities (and ultimately the long-term investment required) in getting research into operational use in wildland fire management.


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Great Basin bristlecone pine mortality: Causal factors and management implications

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This study reports on preliminary investigations into recent and unexpected Great Basin bristlecone pine mortality at two sites, including the potential roles of weather-induced stress and bark beetles. At both sites climatic water deficit (CWD), a cumulative measure of moisture stress, and mean annual temperature increased during the 2010 decade and CWD was the highest in 2020 relative to any time during the past 40 years. Although Great Basin bristlecone pine mortality has not previously been attributed to bark beetles, we observed recent (i.e., 2013 to 2020) bark beetle-attacked trees at both sites, coincident with the timing of increasing temperature and CWD. Few adult beetles were produced, however, and our results support previous research that Great Basin bristlecone pine is a population sink for bark beetles. Because bark beetles are likely not self-sustaining in Great Basin bristlecone pine, bark beetle-caused mortality of this iconic species will most likely occur when it grows mixed with or near other pine species that support bark beetle population growth. We found Ips confusus and Dendroctonus ponderosae attacking Great Basin bristlecone pine in areas where their host trees, P. monophylla and P. flexilis, were also growing. These results suggest that the presence of these infested conifers likely contributed to Great Basin bristlecone pine mortality. We highlight several factors that may be used for prioritizing future research and monitoring to facilitate development of management strategies for protecting this iconic species.

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Adapting western US forests to climate change and wildfires: 10 common questions

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Forests in western North America are shaped by fire and — for the past century or more — by the absence of it. After more than a century of fire exclusion and under a rapidly changing climate, fire behavior has changed, and damage from wildfire is increasing. With more than a century of forest and fire science to build on, scientists, managers, and communities are refining management options for reducing risks to communities and ecosystems.

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Are drought indices and climate data good indicators of ecologically relevant soil moisture dynamics in drylands?

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In this study, we tested components of climatic water balance, including standardized precipitation-evapotranspiration index (SPEI) and SPEI computation lengths, to recreate multi-decadal and periodic soil-moisture patterns across soil profiles at 866 sites in the western United States. Modeling results show that SPEI calculated over the prior 12-months was the most predictive computation length and could recreate changes in moisture availability within the soil profile over longer periods of time and for annual recharge of deeper soil moisture stores. SPEI was slightly less successful with recreating spring surface-soil moisture availability, which is key to dryland ecosystems dominated by winter precipitation. Meteorological drought indices like SPEI are intended to be convenient and generalized indicators of meteorological water deficit. However, the inconsistent ability of SPEI to recreate ecologically relevant patterns of soil moisture at regional scales suggests that process-based models, and the larger data requirements they involve, remain an important tool for dryland ecohydrology.

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Weather explains differences in sagebrush-obligate songbird nest success under various grazing regimes

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Sagebrush Sparrow daily nest survival decreased in hotter and drier weather. Brewer’s Sparrow nest survival was resilient to most weather. Vegetation was influenced by grazing but did not decrease nest survival. Weather influenced sparrow nest survival more than grazing regime.

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Ecological Drought Forecast Tool for Drylands

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With a project location, the tool provides historic information and forecasts for temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture. To do this, the tool integrates soils data from National Soil Conservation Service (NRCS), seasonal weather forecasts from the National Weather Service, an ecosystem water balance model, and statistical models of plant establishment developed through ecological research. The outputs are forecasts and historical conditions for a specific site selected by the user.

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Practical applications of soil moisture information

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The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are pleased to host two webinars on soil moisture data and applications. The webinars are intended to help NWS operational forecasters, and other weather and climate service providers, to better understand soil moisture monitoring and its practical applications. This second webinar in the series will include the following presentations on the use of soil moisture to inform drought monitoring and decision making:
“Using Soil Moisture to Develop the U.S. Drought Monitor Map” – Richard Heim NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
“How Soil Moisture Informs the U.S. Drought Outlooks” – Brad Pugh, NOAA Climate Prediction Center
“Using Soil Moisture for State-Level Drought Monitoring” – Laura Edwards, South Dakota State Climatologist
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Soil moisture 101: What it means, how it’s measured

Webinar recording.

The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are pleased to host two webinars on soil moisture data and applications. The webinars are intended to help NWS operational forecasters, and other weather and climate service providers, to better understand soil moisture monitoring and its practical applications.

This first webinar will provide an overview of soil moisture monitoring and interpretation. It will include a series of brief recorded presentations, followed by live Q&A with the presenters:

“Overview of Soil Moisture Monitoring” – Mike Cosh, USDA Agricultural Research Service
“In situ Soil Moisture Data and Products” – Chris Fiebrich, Oklahoma Mesonet
“Satellite-based Remote Sensing of Soil Moisture” – John Bolten, NASA Goddard
“Model-output Soil Moisture Data and Products” – Marina Skumanich, NIDIS

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Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting

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The two-day event, hosted by Idaho Governor and WGA Chair Brad Little, featured the Western Governors and their specials guests in public conversations about western drought, cross-boundary land management, cybersecurity, clean energy, broadband deployment and telehealth expansion.

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