Researchers at the University of Arizona using a technique called remote sensing have found that a wetter winter usually means a milder summer fire season.

That conclusion comes from connecting winter rains and vegetation growth to what happens the following summer.

"What typically happens is that if you have a wet winter, then you are charging the soil moisture, particularly in the high mountains," says University of Arizona School of Geography Professor Steven Yool. "And so, as a consequence of that, the trees have their feet in deeper water."

In remote sensing, satellites capture reflected sunlight, which can be processed and analyzed to study the Earth. Modeling rainfall and vegetation, in the case of Yool's work, makes it possible to produce maps that show places at risk for wildfire.

"These maps show the hotspots, ' Yool says. "They show places that are likely going to show the most fuel moisture stress."

That gives the U.S. Forest Service tools for determining where to focus their wildfire prevention efforts, Yool says.