Alberta wildfire 2016: Apt contribution from anomalous planetary wave dynamics

Vladimir Petoukhov*, Stefan Petri, Kai Kornhuber, Kirsten Thonicke, Dim Coumou, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In May-June 2016 the Canadian Province of Alberta suffered one of the most devastating wildfires in its history. Here we show that in mid-April to early May 2016 the large-scale circulation in the mid- and high troposphere of the middle and sub-polar latitudes of the northern hemisphere featured a persistent high-amplitude planetary wave structure dominated by the non-dimensional zonal wave number 4. The strongest anticyclonic wing of this structure was located over western Canada. In combination with a very strong El Niño event in winter 2015/2016 this favored highly anomalous, tinder-dry and high-temperature conditions at the surface in that area, entailing an increased fire hazard there. This critically contributed to the ignition of the Alberta Wildfire in May 2016, appearing to be the costliest disaster in Canadian history thus far.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12375
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2018


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