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NOAA's NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECASTERS PROVIDE CRITICAL SUPPORT TO WILDFIRE MANAGEMENT

NOAA's National Weather Service meteorologists play a vital role in support of efforts to control wildfires that rage across the United States each year. NWS meteorologists provide site-specific forecasting for wildfires of all sizes—from half an acre to many thousand acres.

Once a fire starts, up-to-date weather information becomes especially critical. Weather and fuels are the key ingredients in fire behavior. Accurate forecasts of wind direction and speed strongly influence fire strategy and help incident commanders make the best possible decisions to safely and efficiently control wildfires. The forecasters are specially trained in mesoscale and microscale meteorology and employ a variety of special tools to prepare the forecasts that contribute to the safety of all personnel involved in the management of the fires. Routine fire weather forecasts are issued a minimum of twice daily (morning and late afternoon) during the summer fire season and special forecasts are prepared on demand.

Since 1914, NWS meteorologists have worked closely with fire control specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, and other federal, state and local fire control agencies who are responsible for suppressing fires. NWS forecasters monitor meteorological conditions continuously during the fire season. The meteorologists use their knowledge of weather as a critical element to fire control strategies, and in effective management of activities aimed at protecting people and valuable renewable resources.

The National Weather Service is an agency of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

ROLES OF THE METEOROLOGISTS:

In the NWS Office:
Forecasters issue site-specific, timely forecasts of weather which can be hazardous to the crews on the line. Weather phenomena such as dry cold fronts can change the direction and speed of the wind; dry thunderstorms cause downbursts, erratic wind conditions and dangerous lightning. Marine-related weather affect the winds, humidities and temperatures near the fire in coastal areas.

Briefings are given to the operational fire management team to plan where to place crews and how to fight the fire. Forecasters draw upon various sources of meteorological information such as computer-produced forecast chart, local weather observations, and more.

The local NWS office also provides specific meteorological information support to NWS' special cadre of Incident Meteorologists who may be deployed to a fire location.

IN THE STORM PREDICTION CENTER:

During the early morning hours each day, severe weather forecasters with NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., issue a national fire weather forecast. They predict where dry thunderstorms and fire weather conditions may occur over the next 48 hours throughout the contiguous 48 states. Their forecast maps show areas where hot temperatures, low humidity and high winds combined with dry fuels will create critical fire weather conditions. They also highlight areas where dry thunderstorms are expected to produce significant lightning (more than 100 strikes), with the potential to ignite more fires in the dry vegetation.

Forecasters at local offices in each of the National Weather Service's regions have the Storm Prediction Center's "big picture" fire weather outlook for guidance as they predict fire weather in their specific areas of responsibility. The SPC forecasts can also help incident meteorologists dispatched to fire scenes more closely discern likely trouble spots in advance.

At the fire:
The NWS has a small group of experienced fire weather forecasters (approximately 40 nationwide) known as Incident Meteorologists (IMETs). The IMETs can be and are being sent to remote locations throughout the U.S. to support wildfire operations. IMETs are there for fire crew safety and tactical support to the fire management team. They provide weather forecasts to the Fire Behavior Analyst. The IMETs receive special training in microscale forecasting, fire behavior, and fire operations which makes these fire weather forecasters a key member of the fire management team.

KEY EQUIPMENT DEPLOYED WITH THE INCIDENT METEOROLOGISTS:

Incident Meteorologists use special equipment in preparing critical information used in wildfire suppression and prescribed burning projects. One of these tools is the Advanced Technology Meteorological Units (ATMUs) which enables forecasters to operate at the incident command post, providing close meteorological support to the suppression efforts. The components of this unit weigh approximately 250 pounds. The ATMU can be used throughout the country wherever wildfire threatens life, property, or other valuable resources.

These IMETS can deploy rapidly with portable forecast and communications equipment to provide critical fire weather forecasting support. The forecaster sets up the portable unit near the fire lines and provides critical information that helps managers decide where to move fire crews, learn about incoming weather, etc.

Forecasters use laptop computers to access information from local NWS field offices. They can receive the latest information about standard surface and upper air observations, as well as Doppler weather radar and weather satellite data to make specialized forecasts.

Every year, IMETS were deployed to support hundreds of fires nationwide. Forecasters help the on-scene fire management teams to obtain and interpret weather information, train fire personnel on how weather may affect their operations during critical fire situations, and ensure the safety of fire fighters.

More Information
Updated forecast information is also available on the home pages of local National Weather Service Forecast Offices. These pages are organized by geographic regions of the country.
For additional information on the NWS Fire Weather Program, please visit the home page of NOAA's National Fire Weather Forecasts, Offices and Outlooks.

Fire Weather Outlooks from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma

Media Contacts:
Patrick Slattery, NOAA's National Weather Service Central Region, (816) 246-7621, ext. 621, Marilu Trainor, NWS Western Region, (801) 524-5692 ext. 226 or Keli Tarp, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, at (405) 366-0451.


revised Sept. 6, 2000