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February 12, 2009
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
Fire weather forecasters from NOAA’s National Weather Service are on duty in Australia providing crucial weather information to forecasters in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology as they battle wildfires ravaging southeastern Australia.
NOAA’s National Weather Service and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology agreed in 2006 to exchange fire weather expertise and staff during the U.S. and Australian wildfire seasons, which occur at opposite times of the year in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
As part of this exchange, two National Weather Service fire weather experts, Brent Wachter of the Albuquerque, N.M. weather forecast office and Daniel Borsum of the Billings, Mont., office were stationed in Australia when the latest wildfires began raging last weekend. Robert Tobin of the Spokane, Wash., office travelled to the Australian state of Tasmania to provide fire weather forecasting support the day after the wildfires began. Wachter has since returned to the United States.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
These “incident meteorologists” undergo extensive training to support fire-fighting efforts and are able to forecast weather conditions at precise locations during extreme wildfires.
Wachter was working the fire weather desk in Melbourne on Feb. 7, when the wildfires began raging there. That day, he provided nearly 40 spot forecasts, numerous briefings, critically important wind-change charts as well as many other routine duties related to fire-forecasting. His presence provided needed support so that the Australian meteorologists could grapple with the wildfire emergency. Wachter described the day as “the worst fire weather conditions I have witnessed.”
When the fires broke out, Borsum was in Adelaide in South Australia. He immediately travelled to Victoria to provide additional support there.
Heath Hockenberry, NWS national fire weather program manager, described their contributions as “direct, high-intensity, high-impact support.” Six National Weather Service fire weather forecasters are scheduled for duty in Australia during its current wildfire season. This is the third fire season in which these exchanges have taken place. When the U.S. wildfire season begins this summer, Australian fire weather experts will come to work in National Weather Service forecast offices in wildfire prone areas.
The United States and Australia face similar challenges with on-going droughts in fire-prone regions. Drought conditions are currently worse in parts of Australia, but both countries are contending with urban encroachment on wilderness areas. The U.S./Australian exchanges benefit both countries as fire weather forecasters share methods and tools to more effectively face these shared challenges.
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