5.3 Red Flag Warnings: When, Why, and How Are They Used?

Tuesday, 8 January 2019: 2:00 PM
North 226AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Tamara Wall, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV; and L. Van Bussum, R. Heffernan, and H. Hockenberry

A Red Flag Warning (RFW) is a term that has been used since the 1960s by NWS fire weather forecasters to alert forecast users to an ongoing or imminent critical fire weather pattern. The original intent was to alert land management agencies about the onset of critical weather and fuel moisture conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity, impacting firefighter safety. Through time, however, several issues with this system have evolved. First, there is no single quantitative definition of a RFW—different regions use different factors to determine the warning, raising the question of what the definition should be. Second, the public has become more aware of the RFW product, but it was not originally designed for their use. The extent to which the public utilizes these forecasts is not clear, but the NWS is currently exploring the meaning of RFWs to the public. The agency and public uses raises the question of whether the RFW should be confined to be an agency product only or should also be a public product or perhaps variations of the product for both. There is now a strong concern amongst NWS and fire agency personnel that the Red Flag Warning is not an effective messaging medium. As a result of these issues and questions, the California Nevada Applications Program, working with the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, Fire Environment Committee (FENC) and the NWS Fire Weather Program office is conducting an assessment of this forecast product to determine how it should be informed and the intent of its usage. Such an assessment will also reinforce the NWS’ effort to assess overall changes to its extensive advisory, watch and warning criteria.

The goal of the project is to assess the RFW in terms of definition, inputs, usefulness, usability, and impact. Preliminary research questions developed in collaboration with FENC are 1) Does the fire management community view a RFW as a safety or a resource management product? If safety, then what is a fire management safety product? 2) What kind of product could be disseminated that would change actions? 3) What are the best climatological and fuel condition inputs for quantification of RFW? This presentation will focus on initial results from the project and the challenges in addressing these issues.

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