The Fire Weather Alert System: A new fire weather warning system for on-the-ground firefighters
Many firefighters have been injured or killed due to rapid changes in weather causing unexpected fire behavior. Examples include the thunderstorm outflow that killed 19 on the Yarnell Hill Fire, the cold front passage that killed 14 on the South Canyon Fire, and the wind shift that killed 3 on the Twisp River Fire. Many of these weather events can easily be predicted and observed by tools that exist today (e.g., short-term high-resolution forecast models, radar data, nearby weather stations). Tragically, these tools and the data they provide are underutilized by on-the-ground firefighters, which leads to many preventable accidents. Some of the reasons for underutilization are that: 1) this information is difficult to access on mobile devices in the field, 2) the information is scattered among several web sites, 3) some of the information is difficult to interpret because it is intended for weather experts, and 4) firefighters do not have sufficient time to devote to gathering this weather information. The Fire Weather Alert System has been developed to alleviate many of these issues. Users simply provide the system with a location and custom weather thresholds to watch for. The system continuously checks the many data sources that exist for exceedance of those thresholds. Thresholds can be set for wind speed, temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, thunderstorms, and National Weather Service issued Watches, Warnings, or Advisories. When one of these thresholds is reached from a nearby weather station, a short-term forecast, radar data, etc., the user will be alerted. The alert includes information about what threshold was met, where, and from what source (a RAWS station, forecast, etc.). In addition to the alerting functionality, the FWAS also allows users to query and view RAWS and other surface observing station data, view the fire weather zone forecast, see and read all active NWS WW&A, see MODIS and VIIRS hotspot data, view incident information and fire perimeters, and more. Ultimately, the information provided by FWAS has the potential to increase safety and inform decision making on wildland fire incidents. The current FWAS is just the starting framework for a robust fire weather alerting and planning system and we have many enhancements planned. Future capabilities will include ground- and satellite-based lightning detection for viewing and alerts, alerts for approaching thunderstorms based on NEXRAD radar, and allowing users to share watches and broadcast messages. This talk will introduce the FWAS, describe how it can impact on-the-ground firefighter safety and effectiveness, and discuss future development plans.
For more information, please visit the FWAS project web page.