Wildfire Crisis Leads to Bigger Investments in Fire Weather Forecasting

Wildfires have significant environmental and economic impacts, particularly in the western region of the U.S. where the typical wildfire season is becoming longer, primarily because of warmer springs and very dry summers, both of which contribute to drier soils and vegetation. Climate change contributes to increased frequency and reach of fires due to increased temperatures and drought.  As the wildfire devastation in the U.S. continues to grow, both public and private entities are putting emphasis on the need to support wildfire management with fire-weather forecasting technology, among other tools.

Having the ability to not only forecast fire weather, but also to identify and monitor wildfires in real time could make a difference in saving lives, property, and livestock.
Read the DTN e-book to learn more about the latest technology for locating fires

The infrastructure bill being considered by Congress shows support for this crisis with approximately $3.7 billion of the $1 trillion spending bill directed towards wildfire management.  The bill offers funding support for preparation for, and fighting of wildfires, and ultimately better prepares the U.S. for the fire-related effects of climate change.

While this investment is being reviewed as part of a national spending bill, private weather companies are also continuously investing in technology to predict and model fire weather.  Fire-weather forecasting is very useful as a predictive tool, using atmospheric conditions to evaluate wildfire risk. Air temperature, humidity, wind levels and even timing are factors in the intensity, spread and behavior of fires. Having the ability to not only forecast fire weather, but to identify and monitor wildfires in real-time can make a difference in saving lives, property and livestock.

Predicting and forecasting fire weather involves constantly measuring wind, temperature and humidity, all of which are major factors fueling wildfires. This information comes through a good observation network, which includes using weather stations throughout the landscape.  The data from strategically located weather stations can then be integrated into weather models, where a meteorologist can see how those same critical variables factor into future events.

The predictive technology used is a combination of sensors along with machine learning that allow a meteorologist to forecast out into the future when and where wildfire conditions will exist, by combining all those factors to determine the fire risk. Having that kind of information available to not just fire-fighting entities, but businesses as well, can help businesses understand the potential risk of fires and help them prepare accordingly.

While the technological advances are helping understand the potential for fire risk, it’s important that trained meteorologists who specialize in fire weather also look closely into the probability of risk. That risk assessment can be tailored to a specific community or business and when interpreted by a meteorologist, the specific insights can lead to the best strategies for reducing fire risks for each situation.

In particular, utilities are making a lot of investment into fire protection plans and focusing on reducing wildfire risk. Meteorologists are supporting these risk-mitigation efforts by forecasting conditions where fires have a likelihood of being generated.  Utilities deploy this information by limiting activities that could trigger fire development, such as not working on lines that could generate sparks.  Utilities also make critical decisions on which assets to harden or replace that could most likely be the cause of fire development if enhanced fire weather conditions are predicted. And in certain instances, utilities in California proactively shutoff power to certain regions when fire danger conditions are maximized to reduce the risk of fire formation and spread.

Fire-weather experts can also work with geospatial software that takes the weather conditions where fires are known, and predicts where the spread is going to occur, which is an important factor for fighting wildfires. It’s not just utilities that benefit from this kind of risk management, but also any entities involved with managing wildfire risks like fire fighters and local government agencies.

The use of predictive weather analytics is growing in use by other businesses too. For example, hotel chains, benefit from operational intelligence related to fire weather and some are starting to use it to minimize risk in fire-prone locations. These insights can benefit any business where there may be people and property at risk and provide insights for decision making related to evacuations and safety.

Support for wildfire management is important as a recent study shows that climate change has doubled the number of extreme-risk days for California wildfires. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate risk report also shows the growth of extreme drought because of climate change, not only in the U.S., but in central Europe, Australia and even parts of South America. The real impact from this drought is creating those dry and windy conditions that can generate fires, so we will see more fires and in broader geographic areas.

Having the ability to not only forecast fire weather, but to identify and monitor wildfires in real time could make a difference in saving lives, property, and livestock. Read the DTN e-book to learn more about the latest technology for locating fires. Find out more about DTN solutions for helping utility companies prepare, prevent, and mitigate wildfire risk.