Colorado Will Beta Test New Wildfire Prediction Model




A better wildfire weather prediction system might have saved more lives and property. The state of Colorado thinks so, and has agreed to beta test a new system pioneered by the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, starting late in the 2016 fire season.

William Mahoney, deputy director of the research applications lab at NCAR, said the technology has the potential to make firefighters safer, because it combines two models: one that predicts weather and another that predicts fire.

Scientists know that in large fires, the heat and moisture from the fire “actually changes the local weather,” said Mahoney, but right now “everyone is kind of blind to that reaction.” This is a problem, because the interaction between the fire and the weather often leads to some pretty extreme events, he said.

“Like mini-tornadoes or firebursts, back burnings, reversals over the fire, sometimes things like pyrocumulous clouds will form over the fire, which is thunderstorms that are caused by the fire itself.”

During California's and the Pacific Northwest 2015 fire season, “the firefighters were saying this fire is huge and it is creating its own weather and they have absolutely no tools on how the fire will behave,” Mahoney said.

That's dangerous. A fire acting unpredictably can suddenly change direction, racing over a ridge or blowing up where a plane is trying to drop retardant. Predicting what might happen will “make the fire mitigation and firefighting operations more efficient,” said Mahoney. It will also help emergency managers plan evacuations and know where to concentrate fire fighting efforts.

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Source:  KUNC

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