9 NWS Fire Weather Decision Support—Now and in the Future

Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Grand Zoso Ballroom West (Hotel Zoso)
Robyn Heffernan, NOAA/NWS, Boise, ID; and H. Hockenberry and L. VanBussum

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. The NOAA National Weather Service manages a fire weather program that is aimed at meeting this growing demand. These services consist of warnings, forecasts, incident meteorological services, and a variety of briefings and information sharing.

Fire weather decision support is core to the service the National Weather Service provides. Every year the National Weather Service issues over 17,000 spot forecasts, 14,000 Red Flag Warnings and dispatches over 130 IMETs to incidents. 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. The NWS fire weather program is planning for the future and implementing new initiatives in an effort to meet the growing need. The NWS spot forecast webpage is being redesigned with an improved interface, mapping system, remote access capability, and planned to support all types of incidents. The national fire weather program support staff is growing in an effort to be proactive in designing the service of the future and more responsive to needs of today. A standard fire weather training curriculum is being developed for clear, concise, and consistent training for forecasters. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology continues to require the assistance of NWS forecasters, and the fire weather program values this partnership and will continue to meet the need. Finally, national fire weather grids are in the process of being made available for external customer use.

The need for Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) is growing, and the type of incident that IMETs are requested to respond to is becoming more diverse. Therefore, the IMET program is being re-designed to meet this need. IMETs will be organized according to the type of incident and special qualifications required for the incident.

The science and research efforts of the NWS fire weather program are largely being guided by the 2008 Science Advisory Board study on fire weather needs. Some of the ongoing efforts include support for the FX-Net forecast system, coupled fire-atmosphere modeling, and use of communication formats that are accessible with low bandwidth technologies.

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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