885 Spot Weather Forecasts: Improving Utilization, Communication, and Perceptions of Accuracy in Sophisticated User Groups

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
4E (Washington State Convention Center )
Tamara Wall, Western Regional Climate Center, Reno, NV; and T. J. Brown and N. J. Nauslar

Wildfires in the United states can and often do result in billions of dollars in damage each year and significant risk to human life. One of the most commonly used tools to mitigate risk in wildland urban interface areas where communities live in zones with high levels of wildfire risk is prescribed fire. A crucial tool for prescribed fire and fighting wildfires are Spot Weather Forecasts (SWFs) issued by Weather Service Offices throughout the United States for use by wildfire and prescribed fire practitioners for monitoring local-scale weather conditions. In wildfire-prone areas of the United States, some Weather Forecast Offices issue well over 500 SWFs each year. This research focused on the use of SWFs by prescribed fire practitioners to better understand factors that influence perceptions of accuracy and utilization of SWFs. Results indicate that while several well understood climatological, topographical, and data-driven factors influence forecast accuracy, social factors likely have the greater impact on perceptions of accuracy, quantitative accuracy, and utilization. These include challenges with building and maintaining relationships between forecasters and fire managers, communication issues around updating SWFs, and communicating forecast confidence and uncertainty. Operationally, improved quantitative skill in a forecast is always desirable; but key opportunities for improving accuracy and utilization of these forecasts may lie in (1) enhancing the processes and mechanisms for communication between a Weather Forecast Office and fire practitioners – both before, during, and after a SWFs is issued – and (2) working with the wildland fire community to experiment with forecast uncertainty and confidence information in SWFs, and evaluate impacts of these approaches.
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