Advancing our understanding of wildfires
NOAA is a leader in science and technology used by the wildland fire community, and is dedicated to understanding and predicting weather and climate to protect life and property. NOAA’s fire research activities range from improving long-range seasonal and subseasonal predictive tools that provide early indications of drought extent and severity, through advancing the skill of short-range models that identify changes in weather that alter fire behavior, to post-fire runoff and flood forecasts.
Using observations, models and satellite assets, NOAA scientists develop products that address public safety risk and vulnerability, and pioneer systems that provide advanced decision support to officials managing fires and their impacts. NOAA also collaborates with with land management agencies like the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, with federal science agencies such as NASA, the Department of Energy and Naval Research Laboratory, along with state-funded groups, and academia to advance fire weather research.
Research on fire weather occurs in several of NOAA’s line offices. Here are some current research efforts:
- NOAA is creating a fire weather testbed to evaluate a wide range of potential fire weather systems, processes, products, services, information, and/or tools aimed to hasten transition for use by operational fire weather forecasters, their partners, decision makers, and stakeholders, and guide future research.
- NOAA is investigating how ocean conditions can influence precipitation patterns thousands of miles away, leading to improved predictability of fire risk on timescales of weeks to months.
- NOAA’s drought early warning tools can help predict conditions that lead to rapid loss of moisture to the atmosphere from soil and vegetation — increasing risk of ignitions and fire growth.
- NOAA is developing a new, hourly updating, experimental Hourly Wildfire Potential index, derived from the High Resolution Rapid Refresh model’s predictions of temperature, winds and soil moisture conditions.
- NOAA is also exploring how to use satellites to better assess surface conditions, including vegetation dryness, which is an important indicator of how large the fire could become and how much smoke it will emit. These observations will also be used to evaluate risks from post-fire burn scars.
- NOAA scientists are developing new satellite-based fire detection algorithms to send an alert as soon as a fire starts and to anticipate fire behavior with increased precision during the first few hours. This will give firefighters increased opportunity to attack a fire when it’s small and offer improved chances to control it before it spreads. Other algorithms will offer new insight into the sources of fire-related air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from local to global scales.
- The advanced imager on NOAA’s new generation of geostationary orbiting environmental satellites program, Geo-XO, will provide unprecedented views of wildfires from geostationary orbit, including the ability to detect wildfires that are four times smaller than what can be detected today with the Advanced Baseline Imager.
- High-resolution weather models under development by NOAA will identify rapidly-changing weather situations and provide real-time analysis to accurately predict how weather will influence fire behavior, giving incident commanders life-saving information to protect fire crews,
- NOAA’s next-generation smoke transport models will provide better forecasts of how smoke from fires will spread locally and across the nation. The new models will expand to include air chemistry modules .
- NOAA is developing an experimental state-of-the-art precipitation and flood-forecast system to help officials manage the effects of extreme rainfall and post-fire flooding caused by atmospheric rivers.
- NOAA is investigating ways to improve delivery of fire-related information and services, making them more accessible and user-friendly than ever before, especially for vulnerable communities. These improvements will enhance the safety of fire personnel and the public, inform decisions on where to position resources for aggressive initial wildfire response, and support specialized high-impact decisions associated with deadly debris flows caused by heavy rainfall after a fire.