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Wildfire burn scars can intensify and even trigger thunderstorms, leading to catastrophic flooding – here's how

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07.09.2021

Wildfires burn millions of acres of land every year, leaving changed landscapes that are prone to flooding. Less well known is that these already vulnerable regions can also intensify and in some cases initiate thunderstorms.

Wildfire burn scars are often left with little vegetation and with a darker soil surface that tends to repel rather than absorb water. These changes in vegetation and soil properties leave the land more susceptible to flooding and erosion, so less rainfall is necessary to produce a devastating flood and debris flow than in an undisturbed environment.

Burn scars can also initiate or invigorate thunderstorms, raising the risk both of flooding and of lightning that could spark more fires in surrounding areas, as my research with fellow atmospheric scientist Elizabeth Page has shown.

Three things contribute to the potential for burn scars to fuel thunderstorms: lack of vegetation, reduced soil moisture and lower........

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