USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics Fire Science

Fire weather forecasting

Screen capture of the FireBusterSim applicationWind and weather have immediate impacts on the ignition, behavior, and suppression of wildland fires, known as fire weather. In mountainous areas, wind and weather effects are especially complex because of the underlying terrain. The National Weather Service does not provide highly detailed forecasts, so regional weather models can enhance the information received from official forecasts. Cumbersome modeling processes, however, have limited the use of high-resolution weather information in past fire management.

Pacific Southwest Research Station scientists have developed an experimental system called FireBuster* to streamline and automate many intermediate modeling processes to support fire weather forecasting. Fire meteorologists and fire managers can use Firebuster to readily acquire real-time, 72-hour fire weather forecasts at 5-km (3-mile) and 1-km (0.6-mile) resolution over Southern California (the current experimental area). Partners at the Southern California Geographical Area Coordinate Center are testing FireBuster, and researchers are assessing the accuracy and usefulness of its downscaled (locally applicable) forecast capability. FireBusterSim** is a complementary tool that provides downscaled fire weather simulations rather than forecasts.

* FireBuster researchers adapted the Meso-scale Spectral Model (MSM) developed at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) to provide downscaled fire weather forecasts using NCEP’s aviation global forecasts at 25-km grid-spacing as input and forcing.
** FireBusterSim forces MSM with NCEP global analysis to provide downscaled fire weather simulations.

Ongoing research

To date, long-range forecasts for fire danger and severity are not available. Levels of fire danger can be derived from weather variables used in state-of-the-art climate model forecasts, but the direct linkage between fire danger and fire severity is unclear, especially at small scales. Researchers are examining fire characteristics to establish the linkage between fire danger and severity and to improve understanding of fire danger at monthly or even longer time scales.

Traditional climate prediction variables (e.g., precipitation and temperature) and human judgment are the mainstay of current long-range fire planning systems, but scientists continue to identify critical research needs for developing strategies and tools to address long-range fire planning.