Fighting fire with technology

National Weather Service meteorologists are using technology to help fight

some of the worst wild fires in decades.

About 20 incident meteorologists have been sent to help land management

agencies and firefighters battle blazes in several western states. The specially

trained meteorologists use their ability to predict winds, thunderstorms

and other weather conditions to keep firefighters and the public safe.

Knowing which way the wind is blowing, for example, helps firefighters build

a fire line in the correct location or make a decision on whether to evacuate

a town.

"Wind can make a dramatic shift in the flaming front" as can cold fronts

and thunderstorms, said Rick Ochoa, staff meteorologist to the National

Interagency Fire Center and the liaison between the National Weather Service

and fire agencies. "It's much easier for us to predict when we're out there.

When talking about warnings, we're talking about a matter of minutes."

A 250-pound Advanced Technology Meteorological Unit set up at the front

lines of a fire gives the meteorologists a satellite link to the Internet,

allowing them to use their laptops to download radar, satellite and other

weather data. A system on the unit also processes data collected from weather

balloons that measure low-level winds above a fire.

The satellite connection means that data is delivered at about 400 kilobits/sec,

compared with 56 kilobits/sec using phone lines, Ochoa said. "This is important

because we pull down large files. That [connection] allows us to download

faster," he said.

MORE INFO

NOAA's Operational Significant Event Imagery current events page

National Interagency Fire Center

National Weather Service, Boise Fire Weather page

"The fire next time" [Federal Computer Week, Nov. 1, 1999]

"The perfect forecast" [Federal Computer Week, July 3, 2000]

BY Colleen O'Hara
August 15, 2000

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