As the nation’s lead federal weather and climate agency, NOAA has a vast surface weather observation network, a fleet of geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, along with a host of weather and climate models and predictive tools that provide information vital for wildfire planning, response and recovery.
Before the fire
Seasonal prediction and long-lead outlooks
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center offers a range of subseasonal and seasonal forecasts and long-lead outlooks that preview temperature and precipitation trends that can establish conditions conducive for enhanced fire risk. CPC also tracks El Niño and La Niña, the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or “ENSO,” which trigger predictable disruptions of temperature and precipitation that can enhance fire risk.
Drought often sets the stage for fires. NOAA research has produced experimental drought monitoring and early warning guidance tools such as EDDl and LERI which visually depict current atmospheric conditions that lead to dryness and drought over a period of weeks to months. Drought.gov, NOAA’s drought portal, aggregates drought observations and impacts from multi-agency partnerships that coordinate monitoring, forecasting, planning, and information at national, tribal, state and local levels.
Weather forecast products
NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Prediction operates a suite of numerical weather prediction models that provide officials and fire managers with actionable information on how climate and weather will influence fire risk, fire behavior and smoke impacts. They include: high resolution rapid refreshing forecasts, for changes in temperature, humidity, wind, lightning, and precipitation; mid-range forecasts to aid in planning at the scale of days to a week, and detailed on-site weather forecasts at wildfire incident command posts for tactical decision support. The National Weather Service provides fire weather forecasts as as well as vital public safety information.
During the fire
NOAA’s National Weather Service provides forecast advice and interpretative services on demand to help core partners, such as emergency personnel and public safety officials, make decisions when high-impact weather events like wildfires threaten lives and property. Specially trained Incident Meteorologists or IMETS, are ready for deployment to wildfire command centers to generate real-time fire weather forecasts to support tactical firefighting decisions.
NOAA Satellites monitor wildfires, as well as a number of weather and climatic conditions that enhance fire risk from space and will continue to do so for decades to come. The GOES-R Series Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), available on GOES-16, GOES-17, and GOES-18, will also fly on GOES-U, providing rapidly updating information about wildfires through the 2030s. The JPSS Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), available on the Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 polar orbiting satellites, will also be available on JPSS-2, -3, and -4, providing very high resolution images of wildfires through the 2030s.
The HRRR-Smoke, RAP-Smoke and NAQFC models simulate the emissions and transport of smoke from wildfires and predict the impact of smoke on the weather, air quality and visibility. Using the most recent weather observations and information about fires detected by polar-orbiting satellites during the previous 24 hours, these models calculate a fire’s size and couple that information with weather simulations from their parent weather models to produce forecasts of near-surface smoke, smoke aloft and in the case of NAQFC, the smoke’s impact on downwind ground-level ozone. The U. S. Forest Service uses NOAA's HYSPLIT model in its BlueSky smoke modeling tool to assess planned prescribed burns.
After the fire
The fire may be out, but for many years, communities below a burn scar face increased flooding threats. NWS forecasters closely monitor burn scars, using high-resolution weather models, Doppler radar, and their knowledge of local terrain to identify when even modest rain storms could produce a flooding threat.
NOAA researchers are building a state-of-the-art precipitation and flood forecasting system for California’s Bay Area that mates a new radar network to high-resolution weather and flood prediction systems to improve lead times for officials dealing with extreme storms like atmospheric rivers.