Evolution of Post-Wildfire Services within the National Weather Service

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner
Thursday, 8 January 2015: 1:45 PM
221A-C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Mike Schaffner, NOAA/NWS, Salt Lake City, UT; and M. Solum

Wildfire can have a dramatic effect on the hydrologic response of a watershed. The formation of water-repellent soils, destruction of rainfall-intercepting vegetation, and loss of soil organic material can significantly increase runoff and cause flash flooding and debris flows. This post-wildfire hazard poses a significant threat to life and property in the West. Each year numerous communities are impacted by post-fire debris flows, flash floods, and related hazards. The National Weather Service (NWS) is working to evolve its post-wildfire services by more quickly assessing post-fire risk, creating a seamless web presence, and enhancing our watch and warning products.

Federal Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams are deployed to large wildfires to perform a rapid assessment of post-fire conditions and values at risk, as well as to recommend and implement watershed treatments. NWS is working to increase participation and collaboration with federal BAER teams which would improve NWS understanding of hazards, specific event triggers and the ability to craft more impact-specific warnings. Integrated NWS participation in these teams can also increase understanding among partner agencies of the flash-flood detection challenges.

Historically, the web page presence for post-fire hydrologic hazards was not consistent from one Weather Forecast Office (WFO) to another, and some large or significant fires did not have any publicly available web pages. To improve web services, a seamless regional web page is being designed that will provide an overview of western U.S. wildfires and will also allow customers to drill down to WFO-specific post-fire pages. WFO pages will have specific fires ordered by year and each fire will have a minimum set of information available such as a map of the burned area, impacted areas. WFOs will have the ability to add further details to the fire pages to meet local needs. In recent years WFOs have greatly improved Flash Flood Watches by tailoring the product for burned areas. Watch products routinely highlight specific burned areas; communities at risk; and basin, canyon, and creek names.

While attention to detail is important in NWS products, specifying every burned area and related hazard in a text-product may not be the best way to communicate the risk to our customer base. As post-fire services evolve, other options will be explored, such as replacing some of the descriptive text with images and graphics. Examples of this include: linking to a graphic or current weather story that shows the location of the most recent burned areas; when listing the name of a highly impacted canyon we would include a link to an aerial image showing the location of the impacted location with respect to the burned area above it.