Mar 01, 2024

Historic Texas fires highlight elevated climate risk: ClimateCheck data analysis

Fire | by Sam Eckhouse, Chief Technology Officer | 3 Minutes

ClimateCheck analysis finds that census tracts within the Smokehouse Creek fire and other fires in the Texas panhandle are at higher risk of wildfire and are more likely to experience more severe wildfire than the rest of the state. The Smokehouse Creek Fire is the largest fire in the state’s history. The Grape Vine Creek fire and Windy Deuce fire are also burning in the region. The fires started Monday and have covered more than 2,000 square miles.

High winds and record-setting high temperatures fueled the fire’s rapid growth. Climate models project risk and severity of wildfires will increase across the state of Texas, due to an increase in the severity and frequency of weather conditions conducive to wildfire.

Climate risk data provider ClimateCheck evaluates risk to individual properties, portfolios and specified areas across five different climate-related hazards — heat, precipitation, drought, flooding, and fire — to create a 1-100 risk score for each hazard. Our risk ratings reflect current and projected risk based on both historical data and projections through 2050.

Learn more about our methodology. Press can contact us at to request additional data or with any questions.

Greater likelihood, severity of wildfire in affected areas

Areas within the Texas panhandle fires are overall more likely to experience wildfire than the rest of the state. Data is based on perimeters of the fire as of Feb. 28, which include 18 census tracts (14 in Texas, four in Oklahoma.)

  • 100% of buildings in all 18 affected census tracts have high or extreme fire risk
  • At least 75% of buildings within the Texas panhandle fires have a ClimateCheck fire risk rating above 70 on a scale of 1-100, translating to extreme risk. As a state, Texas ranks 15th for wildfire risk based on ClimateCheck’s analysis, with a median risk rating of 44.
  • The modeled chance of a fire in a 30-year period for census tracts within the fires averages about 20%. Only 3% of census tracts in Texas have this high of a risk of burning. Most parts of texas with any risk of burning are at significantly lower risk: The average 30-year chance of a fire in areas at risk statewide is around just 1%.
  • About 85% of buildings in Texas are in census tracts with some risk of wildfire

Areas within the perimeters of the fires are also at risk of more severe wildfire compared to other parts of Texas that experience fire risk.

  • The average risk of flame heights exceeding four feet is over 65% for areas within the Texas fires, compared to about 30% for all areas of Texas with fire risk. Four feet is used as a general threshold for when fires become too difficult to control manually, and therefore are more likely to spread out of control.
  • Areas within fires experience more severe fire weather than other parts of Texas, as measured by the internationally accepted Fire Weather Index (FWI.) Census tracts within the fire perimeters experience FWI as high as 54, while other areas of Texas at risk of wildfire experience FWI ratings as high as 43 on average. FWI is a comparative measure of risk, so the threshold for high risk can vary by location. FWI over 50 is generally considered very high. Among US census tracts, about 15% have a historical FWI threshold above 50 and 9% have historical FWI threshold above 60. These tracts are primarily in AZ, CA, NV, NM, OR, TX, UT.

Climate change means more frequent and severe fire weather

Fire weather refers to weather conditions that can be conducive to the spread of fire: Dry or low humidity conditions, high winds, and high heat. The FWI is a widely accepted wildfire danger rating system metric which estimates the intensity of dangerous wildfire conditions. It is a daily numerical measure of fire danger with four-kilometer spatial resolution that accounts for the effects of fuel moisture and wind on fire behavior and spread.

Leading climate models project that the severity of fire weather conditions on the highest FWI days in Texas will increase across the state, as will the number of days with relatively high FWI. While Texas experienced the equivalent to one week per year of high FWI days in 1990, by 2050 the state is projected to experience two weeks per year of high FWI days — in other words, the number of high FWI days is expected to double.

ClimateCheck fire risk ratings for Texas census tracts, with fire perimeters as of Feb. 28 highlighted. Highest fire risk rating in Texas is 95 out of a possible risk score of 100.

ClimateCheck heat map for wildfire risk with Texas fires perimeters marked, 2-28-2024
- ClimateCheck is a climate risk data provider that empowers businesses to identify, manage, and mitigate the impact of extreme weather events on their real estate portfolios. ClimateCheck is happy to share additional data and context with press. Contact us at