Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fire Weather Forecast (a note from Springfield NOAA's Drew)

My favorite part about attending the Fire Academy was not seeing all of the horrifying wildfires out west from the vantage point of firefighters in their fire shelters, or even the fun calculus behind fire behavior, which is admittedly pretty fun. Several years ago, I was fortunate to have a section of my class taught by the meteorologist at Springfield NOAA, Drew. He came to the class (and daily to his job) with an understanding of fire behavior in Missouri's fuel models. If I could take a week-long course on fire weather taught by Drew, I'd return to Fire Academy every summer. Unfortunately, it was only a morning session. He's an entrancing meteorologist, and also a very powerful one who issues Spot Weather Forecasts; he can make or break your wishes for prescribed fire on a given day, and his forecasts are never couched in some irrational fear of responsibly applied fire.

When Drew sends out little notes to his prescribed fire mailing list, all of us in my circle pay close attention--he knows what those fuel moistures are up to and how the combination of wicked south winds and plummeting relative humidities can quickly result in the potential for spotting or wildfires. Springfield NOAA also knows the difference between someone wanting to burn brush in a fescue pasture in mid-April with winds gusting to 30mph and a professional technician wanting to burn a tract of Ozark woodlands in Fuel Model 9. Unfortunately there are certain fire departments that don't consult with Drew and will examine one criterion, wind, before issuing burn permits. Want to burn cedar slash when there are 10 inches of snow on the ground? You probably won't get that permit if the winds are approaching 10mph. It's actively raining and it has been for a month? 1000 hr. fuels wouldn't burn if you brought a blow torch to them? If those winds are 10mph, you won't get a burn permit. (We've actually tried just on a lark.) However, today we received a note from Drew about Thursday's potential red flag conditions:

Increasing s-sw winds will start to kick in today over southeast Kansas and western Missouri with continued low humidity and continue tonight with very poor humidity recovery tonight. The stronger winds will spread east into much of the area by Thursday morning. All this will occur with strong high pressure moving off to the east and the approach of a front from the west. Some initially modest low level moisture may start to shift into the area on Thursday with winds beginning to diminish late in the day. Expected conditions will be close to Red Flag criteria Thursday with the winds easily exceeding criteria, especially from southeast Kansas into southwest and central Missouri. RH values may be somewhat marginal for the issuance of a warning depending on how fast moisture returns. But This next front will not likely barrel through the region with strong winds like the last one did last Sunday night and in may actually stall out for a time close to the Missouri and Arkansas state line late Thursday night into Friday. Some light precipitation may occur at times Friday and over the weekend.

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