NOAA Incident Meteorologists Can Take the Heat

Incident meteorologist on the front line.

Incident meteorologist on the front line.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Every year, about 100,000 wildfires burn millions of acres in the United States causing severe destruction and loss of life.

We all know the heroic role firefighters play in combating forest fires. But, did you know that NOAA sends highly trained fire weather forecasters, called incident meteorologists (IMETs), into the field with them?

With lives on the line, this specialized team of meteorologists provides accurate, on-site weather forecast, warning, and consultation services to help firefighters, incident responders, and command staff manage wildfires … safely and effectively. They use a variety of special tools to prepare weather forecasts that contribute to the safety of all personnel involved in wildfire management.

IMETs receive special training in both mesoscale (large-scale) and microscale (the smallest) weather systems. Mesoscale phenomena include thunderstorms and squall lines, while microscale events could include air turbulence and dust storms.

IMETs also are trained in fire behavior and fire operations, which make these fire weather forecasters highly valued members of a fire management team.

The portable All Hazards Meteorological Response System.

The portable All Hazards Meteorological Response System.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Hazardous Duty On the Front Lines of Fire

NOAA’s National Weather Service sends these brave forecasters to remote locations throughout the United States to provide support for command staff and incident responders with wildfire operations. They provide critical information, such as wind speed and direction — important weather factors that incident commanders need to know.

Once deployed, an IMET uses a portable All Hazards Meteorological Response System (AMRS) to access the National Weather Service network of Doppler weather radars, computer forecast models, and satellite images. This technology includes a laptop PC, and wireless and satellite communications links.

With this critical weather information supplied by IMETs, incident commanders can then decide where to move and position fire crews, as well as learn about incoming weather patterns that may affect the characteristics of a given fire.

Accurate forecasts become even more critical to the safety of frontline firefighters when a turn in the weather can cause a fire to become erratic. A shift in the wind or a change in weather conditions can help or harm firefighters by hindering the spread of a fire or enlarging and changing its direction.

Fire weather briefing.

Fire weather briefing.

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Forest Service)

On Call 24/7

When on the scene of a wildfire, the IMET starts each day by preparing the daily weather forecast for incident commanders and command staff.

Next, the IMET presents a fire weather briefing to the command staff and firefighting crews. These critical briefings provide advanced information about wind patterns, thunderstorms, and humidity levels.

Incident commanders have access to the IMET 24 hours a day, seven days a week during a wildfire event.

A History of Service, In and Out of the Woods

Wilde fire.

Jesusita wildfire in Santa Barbara, Calif.

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Forest Service)

In cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and other partner agencies, IMETs also provide on-site support for public safety threats ranging from hazardous materials spills to earthquake recovery efforts. There are currently 85 certified National Weather Service IMETs available to deploy at a moment’s notice to assist in wildfire suppression efforts.

Since 1914, IMETs have worked closely with fire behavior analysts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, and other federal, state, and local fire control agencies.

You can learn more NOAA’s courageous IMETs by visiting NOAA’s Fire Weather Web page or listen to our fire weather podcast. NOAA logo.