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  1. Abstract

    Lightning occurring with less than 2.5 mm of rainfall—typically referred to as ‘dry lightning’—is a major source of wildfire ignition in central and northern California. Despite being rare, dry lightning outbreaks have resulted in destructive fires in this region due to the intersection of dense, dry vegetation and a large population living adjacent to fire-prone lands. Since thunderstorms are much less common in this region relative to the interior West, the climatology and drivers of dry lightning have not been widely investigated in central and northern California. Using daily gridded lightning and precipitation observations (1987–2020) in combination with atmospheric reanalyses, we characterize the climatology of dry lightning and the associated meteorological conditions during the warm season (May–October) when wildfire risk is highest. Across the domain, nearly half (∼46%) of all cloud-to-ground lightning flashes occurred as dry lightning during the study period. We find that higher elevations (>2000 m) receive more dry lightning compared to lower elevations (<1000 m) with activity concentrated in July-August. Although local meteorological conditions show substantial spatial variation, we find regionwide enhancements in mid-tropospheric moisture and instability on dry lightning days relative to background climatology. Additionally, surface temperatures, lower-tropospheric dryness, and mid-tropospheric instability are increased acrossmore »the region on dry versus wet lightning days. We also identify widespread dry lightning outbreaks in the historical record, quantify their seasonality and spatial extent, and analyze associated large-scale atmospheric patterns. Three of these four atmospheric patterns are characterized by different configurations of ridging over the continental interior and offshore troughing. Understanding the meteorology of dry lightning across this region can inform forecasting of possible wildfire ignitions and is relevant for assessing changes in dry lightning and wildfire risk in climate projections.

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  2. Post-wildfire extreme rainfall events may more than double over the western United States this century.
  3. Variability in hydroclimate impacts natural and human systems worldwide. In particular, both decadal variability and extreme precipitation events have substantial effects and are anticipated to be strongly influenced by climate change. From a practical perspective, these impacts will be felt relative to the continuously evolving background climate. Removing the underlying forced trend is therefore necessary to assess the relative impacts, but to date, the small size of most climate model ensembles has made it difficult to do this. Here we use an archive of large ensembles run under a high-emissions scenario to determine how decadal “megadrought” and “megapluvial” events—and shorter-term precipitation extremes—will vary relative to that changing baseline. When the trend is retained, mean state changes dominate: In fact, soil moisture changes are so large in some regions that conditions that would be considered a megadrought or pluvial event today are projected to become average. Time-of-emergence calculations suggest that in some regions including Europe and western North America, this shift may have already taken place and could be imminent elsewhere: Emergence of drought/pluvial conditions occurs over 61% of the global land surface (excluding Antarctica) by 2080. Relative to the changing baseline, megadrought/megapluvial risk either will not change or is slightlymore »reduced. However, the increased frequency and intensity of both extreme wet and dry precipitation events will likely present adaptation challenges beyond anything currently experienced. In many regions, resilience against future hazards will require adapting to an ever-changing “normal,” characterized by unprecedented aridification/wetting punctuated by more severe extremes.« less