218309 NWS Incident Meteorologist On-Site Decision Support

Thursday, 10 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Robyn Heffernan, NOAA Fire and Public Weather Services Branch, Boise, ID; and H. Hockenberry and L. Van Bussum

Wildfire is a growing threat each year for communities across the United States and the demand for fire weather decision support services is increasing as well. Fire weather decision support is core to the service the National Weather Service provides, and is integral to the NWS vision of building a Weather Ready Nation. Annually on average there are 76,470 wildfires that burn 6.53 million acres. The need for fire weather information to prepare for and support these incidents is huge, and growing. National Weather Service Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) go beyond standard forecast products and services and provide a suite of services that are specifically tailored to incident needs.

The National Weather Service IMETs are specially trained to go to wildfires and other all-hazard incidents and give weather briefings and forecasts to incident responders and command staff. The meteorologist's forecasts ensure the safety of operations and allow responders to plan operations taking into account one of the most changing aspects of an incident, the weather. This group, has been protecting the nation's incident responders for nearly a century.

Historically, National Weather Service IMETs have been requested for a variety of services including fire support, flooding support, tornado recovery, oil spills, hurricane response and the Columbia Shuttle recovery. In some cases, IMET support to a specific incident has lasted several months. Incident commanders and other fire management have successfully been able to make life saving and cost containing decisions based on the information NWS IMETs provide. Incident commanders and fire staff report that many successful incident decisions have been made due to the proactive abilities of the IMET in not just reporting the weather, but relating what the forecast means to the potential success of the incident response plan and the responders on the ground. Some examples of the value of IMET services include:

U.S. Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky reports, "(The IMET's) exceptional knowledge and presence was invaluable to the emergency team. He provided updates not only on developing weather situations but provided pertinent information regarding area lake and river levels, flood wall and levee status, and many other aspects of the flood." Regarding the historic 2011 flooding event in McCracken County, KY.

Helicopter managers on the 2012 Chandral Fire report that millions of dollars were potentially saved by repositioning helicopters according to the IMET's accurate prediction of thunderstorms and associated hail.

IMETs provide an onsite service which allows for the forecaster to provide high impact forecasts on an extremely small scale, relate forecast information to a specific incident, and communicate it effectively. This is what makes NWS IMET decision support both successful and meaningful. The NOAA National Weather Service works directly with its land management and community partners to deliver a fire weather decision support service that remains relevant and valuable through the changing environment of wildland fire management.

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