Fighting fire with technology
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Aug 15, 2000
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
"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.