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Fire Weather

NOAA's National Weather Service provides daily fire weather forecasts, fire weather warning products, and forecasts designed to assist wildland Fire Agencies' assessment of fire danger every day of the year. Most NWS Weather Forecast Offices provide fire forecasts twice a day and provide warnings in close partnership with local, state and Federal fire control agencies. Every year, fire weather forecasting experts provide over 8,000 Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches for protection of the public and safety of fire fighters on the ground. Also, Weather Forecast Staff provide vital, site-specific spot forecasts for wildfire, prescribed fire projects, all-hazards incidents, marine incidents and search and rescue. Spot forecast requests have been increasing tremendously, with the NWS now providing nearly 20,000 annually.

The National Weather Service has a cadre of around 85 meteorologists that are specially trained to go to wildfires and other incidents and give weather briefings and forecasts to the incident responders and command staff. The meteorologist's forecasts ensure the safety of operations and allow responders to plan operations taking into account one of the most changeable aspects of an incident, the weather. This group, known as the Incident Meteorologists (IMETs), has been protecting the nation's incident responders for nearly 90 years.

Men standing in a forest after a fire
Incident Meteorologists and Fire Behavior Analysts observing a firing operation near Alpine, AZ in May 2004.
The catastrophic fires of 1910 were a turning point in how the nation dealt with wildland fires. Prior to 1910 there was no real concerted effort to manage or control the nation's forests or for fighting forest fires. The death and devastation left behind by the wildfires of 1910 made people take notice, and as a result the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was tasked with managing the nation's forests and for fighting wildfires.

The Weather Bureau started doing forecasts specifically for the fire weather community in 1914. In 1916 the first "mobile" weather unit was deployed to a fire. This mobile unit consisted of a forecaster and a team of horses carrying his weather equipment to the field to support the firefighters in the field. It soon became apparent that having a forecaster at the incident was a big plus for both tactics and for safety.

In the 1930's the first mobile fire weather vans were created. Automobiles had proven themselves reliable and they were able to carry much more equipment with less upkeep for a wider range. The concept of using a fire weather "vehicle" was used all the way into the 1970's with upgrades of vehicles and radios as they became available.

In 1965 the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed the Boise Interagency Fire Center (BIFC) to better coordinate firefighting efforts in the Great Basin area. Shortly after the development of the Boise Interagency Fire Center, NOAA joined them. In 1993 the Boise Interagency Fire Center changed its name to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

A mobile observation platform sits in a field.
Fire-RAWS, a mobile observation platform that can be quickly set up to monitor temperature, wind, relative humidity, precipitation and other miscellaneous meteorological information, is critical to fire weather and used on hazards incidents such as oil spills and hurricanes.
An Incident Meteorologist's main obligation is to cover wildfires, however, they've also been known to respond to other incidents, such as oil and chemical spills, terrorism drills, and other incidents of national importance.

New types of incident requests are driving NOAA to proactively plan for the future of Incident Meteorologist support.

Incidents such as hazardous material and oil spills, along with high impact national events such as Hurricane Katrina, point toward a future of critical weather information support for the entire emergency management community. To prepare for this critical emergency support, NOAA has invested additional resources in the Incident Meteorologist program that will allow faster incident response times and increased forecast accuracy during critical events. Mobile forecasting laptops, global satellite platforms and on-site observing equipment are all part of the standard IMET kit. The Incident Meteorologist program is supported to respond to several types of high-impact environmental all-hazard events.

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