6.1 Armchair Firefighting: Incident Meteorology and the Future of the Forecast Process

Wednesday, 15 July 2020: 10:35 AM
Virtual Meeting Room
Matthew E. Jeglum, NOAA/NWS, Salt Lake City, UT

Handout (1.4 MB)

Despite its initial conception almost 100 years ago, Incident Meteorologists (IMET) have been a model for the modern evolution of weather forecast services nationwide. IMETs are readily-deployable National Weather Service meteorologists that can provide rapid on-site forecast and decision support services to a wide range of incidents. While the large majority of IMET dispatches are for wildfires, these incidents have included weather support for disaster recovery operations, hazardous material spills, and the space shuttle Columbia tragedy. IMETs are embedded with the partners they serve in order to provide the highest quality forecast and the most effective communication of that forecast.

Operational weather forecasting on wildfires is a spectacularly difficult complex terrain meteorology problem. Forecasters, and the tools they utilize, need to comprehend the full range of micro-, meso- and synoptic scale processes common to mountainous areas to make time-sensitive forecasts at high spatial and temporal resolution with substantial life and property at stake. It is not uncommon for an IMET to provide such forecasts while working 16 hour shifts for 14 days straight while sleeping in a tent and getting immediate feedback from fireline personnel when the forecast is in error.

In addition to describing a brief history of the IMET program and providing a snapshot of daily life for an IMET, this presentation will discuss the ways that new scientific and technological advancements are changing the forecast process and how those advancements will bring a revolution in how those forecasts can be communicated effectively. Lastly, possible “low-hanging fruit” and future steps for the operational, academic, and research communities will be described.

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