1.4 The 6 March 2017 Southern Great Plains Firestorm: Operational Preparedness and Fire Environment Perspectives

Monday, 8 January 2018: 9:30 AM
Ballroom D (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Barry R. Bowers, NOAA/NWS Forecast Office, Norman, OK; and T. T. Lindley, G. P. Murdoch, B. R. Smith, and D. Daily

On 6 March 2017, a historic outbreak of wildfires ravaged southwestern Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, and northwestern Oklahoma. A true firestorm, the conflagration incinerated nearly 1.3 million acres and claimed seven lives. For more than a decade, National Weather Service meteorologists and predictive service fire analysts worked to improve forecasts and warnings for extreme fire on the southern Great Plains. Through the lens of this operationally applied science, climatic signals conducive to fire were evident on the Plains as early as fall 2016. Seasonal recognition of the potential for damaging wildfire outbreaks prompted the implementation of comprehensive forecaster training for predicting high-impact fire episodes at WFO Norman. This presentation will document the strategic operational readiness of forecasters to recognize significant wildfire threats prior to the firestorm. Further, we will illustrate the meteorological and vegetative fuel environment that supported the outbreak, including the unprecedented occurrence of multiple megafires. This includes fuel-weather conditions correspondent to conceptual models for violent southern Great Plains wildfire outbreaks. Novel observations of the thermodynamic and kinematic structure of fire-effective low-level thermal ridges were obtained during the firestorm, which will influence the future of wildland fire forecasting on the Plains.
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