Requesting Spot Forecasts

 

Spot Forecast Info Page

NWS Austin/San Antonio

Spot forecasts are site-specific weather forecasts in support of wildfire suppression and natural resource management. These forecasts aid the land management and fire control agencies in protecting life and property during wildland fires, hazardous fuels reduction, and rehabilitation and restoration of natural resources. Spot forecasts may also be issued for hazardous materials incidents and other threats to public safety.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

What methods are available for making a spot forecast?

Nearly all spot forecast requests are sent to the National Weather Service through a handy internet program called NWS Spot.  Instructions on how to use this program is available further down this page.

 

Those without internet access may also fax a form titled "Fire Weather Special Forecast Request" or otherwise known as "WS Form D-1".  Blank copies of WS Form D-1 can be found on the internet or can be requested from the Austin/San Antonio NWS Office. 

 

As a final resort, specific weather information can also be requested over the phone from NWS forecasters.  This means of communication will be inefficient for those requesting a large amount of weather information.

Who can use a spot forecast?
When used for prescribed burns, spot forecasts must be requested with cooperation from a federal agency.  However, for the purpose of controlling wildfires, anyone can request this site-specific weather support.  Once completed, spot forecasts requested through NWS Spot (for both wildfire and non-wildfire purposes) will become available to anyone with internet access.

How long does it take for the NWS to respond to a spot forecast request?
Spot forecasts are generally issued within 30 minutes of the request.  If the forecast is not fulfilled within 45 minutes of the request time, please call the Austin/San Antonio NWS Office.   

When can spot forecast requests be sent?
Spot forecasts can be requested at any time of day, 365 days a year.  However, non-wildfire requests should be sent within 12 hours of the prescribed burn time.  Prescribed burn forecast requests are handled most efficiently when the requests are sent between 630 and 730 am or between 830 and 11 am local time.

 

HOW TO USE NWS SPOT

Requesting spot forecasts has never been easier thanks to a program called NWS Spot.  Spot forecasts for South Central Texas are requested and accessed using the following website address:
http://spot.nws.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/spot/spotmon?site=ewx

 

 

To request and monitor spot forecasts, simply click the above web link which opens a page like the image in figure 1.  

Spot Forecast Example1

Figure 1

 

Monitoring Spot Forecasts

This NWS Spot request and monitor page is used for submitting new requests and also for monitoring the status of all other requests for the current day.  The page will automatically refresh once a minute to show any changes in status.  

 

Included on the request and monitor page are a "Submit a New Request" link, arrow buttons next to the date for viewing of spot requests from other days, and a "CALENDAR" link for moving to other days more quickly.

 

Requests can be referenced by clicking on either the colored symbols on the map or any of the links in the table.  The map symbols show both the location of the burns and the status of the spot forecast requests. Green squares indicate requests that are still pending.  Purple squares indicate burns where questions have been asked.  Red squares indicate burns where the forecast has been completed.

 

 

Referencing Specific Spot Forecasts 

Each request has its own page containing maps, information about the request and, eventually, the forecast.  Sensitive information about the request (such as phone numbers, names of contact persons, and the exact location of the burn) are NOT visible by everyone - but only on the computer that made the original request and NWS computers. 

 

When referencing a particular spot forecast page, there are additional actions that one can take.  For example, "Back to Spot List" returns to the monitor page.  Using the computer that made the original request, one has the option to "Change Request" to change the details of the request, or "Delete Request" to delete the request.

 

There is also an option to "Copy Info to New Spot Request".  This is helpful for burns that last over several days.

 

Each request page will also have a template allowing the individual making the request to submit feedback.  Feedback indicating unrepresentative conditions is critical input which has a direct impact on the forecast accuracy of future forecasts.  From the main spot forecast page, one has the ability to switch to a similar screen for days other than today.  One can use this to send us feedback on earlier forecasts, or to copy the information from one request to a new request for today.

 

 

Submitting a New Request

Once clicking the "Submit a New Request" link, information is entered on a web-based form as shown in figure 2.

 

Spot Forecast Example

Figure 2

 

After passing through some basic consistency checks, the NWS is notified of a new request and a new webpage is created for this burn.  For information on how to fill out this automated form, skip down to the "Spot Request Form" section.

 

Once the request is submitted, it is best to leave the main NWS Spot request and monitor page window open.  Since this main page is automatically updated every minute, the forecast will be accessible within a minute of it being issued.  To view the webpage for any burn or wildfire, click either on the name of the burn in the listing, or on the map symbol for the burn.  If NWS forecasters notice any errors in the request, they will either call or send a question that will show up on this page.  Answering questions or making other changes to a request from this webpage can ONLY be done from the computer that made the original request. 

When the forecast is complete, anyone can view the forecast and print copies.  Feedback and questions can either be submitted through the feedback template (see above) or by phone.  Check the local or statewide operating plans for NWS phone numbers.

 

Spot Request Form

The first time a spot request is sent from a particular computer, almost all the boxes will be empty. After that, many of the boxes will be filled in with information that shouldn't change very much from one request to another (such as names and phone numbers).

The elements highlighted in red are required for the NWS to accept the spot forecast request.  While the other items may not be necessary, they enhance our ability to make an accurate and useful forecast.  The form is broken down into eight sections, each discussed briefly below.

 

Project Name Section

Project Name Example

A unique name is needed to describe the project.  If the project name is the same as any other project for the same day, the program will alert the requester and prevent the request from reaching the NWS.

Use the buttons to indicate the type of request (Prescribed Fire is chosen by default).  For prescribed fires, one should indicate the ignition time and date using a 24 hour clock based on the local time zone. The form defaults to an ignition time about ½ hour in the future.

 

Requesting Agency Section

Requesting Agency Example

Provide agency name, phone number for both voice and fax (please include the area code) and the name of a point of contact. All this information will be helpful in case problems or questions arise.  One should only need to enter this information for the first spot forecast request. Afterwards, it will be filled in with the same information as the previous request.


Reason for Spot Forecast Section

Spot Purpose Example

In most cases, the first option covers the purpose of the prescribed burn. Further guidance on NWS Spot forecast policy is available in section 4.0 in NWS Instruction 10-401 at  http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/010/010.htm

 

Location Section

Spot Location Example

 

 

 

 

In this section indicate the precise location of the burn in latitude/longitude. One can either specify in degrees (eg. 29.1486) or in degrees/minutes/seconds (eg. 29 13 34).

 

In order to increase response time, it is best to match up the burn location with a geographic description in the "Remarks" section. (eg. 8 NNE Llano).  Another way to confirm the location is to specify the name of the 7 ½ minute USGS quadmap where the burn is located.  

 

The elevation (in feet above seal level) at the top and bottom of the burn should be entered in the "Elevation" boxes. If the burn is on flat ground, only one elevation value is needed.  Enter the name of the nearest drainage in the "Drainage" box. This is another way to confirm the burn location.  Enter the slope aspect, such as NE or S (or possibly FLAT) in the "Aspect" box.  Also, please enter the size of the burn (in acres) in the "Size" box.

Fuel Section

Spot Fuel Example

Indicate the type of fuel, either using fuel model numbers, or a description of the fuel such as "grass", "ponderosa pine", etc.  Also, indicating the amount of fuel sheltering helps increase the accuracy of both 20ft and eye-level wind forecasts.

Observation Section

Spot Obs Example

In this section provide local observations near the burn. For each observation we need where it is in relation to the burn (for example, "base camp", "1 mile NW"), the elevation (feet) and the time (local; preferably using a 24 hour clock). 

 

The wind (mph) can be specified as "N12 Gust 25" or something similar. 

 

The temperature and wet-bulb values (deg. F) should be entered and the RH (percent) and Dewpoint (deg. F) can also be entered if known (they will be calculated from the Temperature/Wet-bulb/Elevation if not provided). 

 

Remarks about clouds, weather or other important information should be entered in the final box.  If there are more than 4 observations, please put them in the "remarks" section below.

 

Forecast Elements Section

Spot Elements Example

Indicate which weather elements are needed for the burn.  

In the case of a wildfire, weather elements will likely be needed for the today, tonight, and tomorrow periods.  However, if a grass fire is expected to be put out by later today, forecasters shouldn't waste time worrying about the temperature for tomorrow, unless it's needed.

Prescribed burns typically are requested for various time periods within the same day.  The most common forecast periods are 1200 (noon), 1400, and 1400 local time.  In this case, the requestor would select only the "TDA" period and specify the 3 time periods requested in remarks.  

Wind forecasts are generally more accurate at the 20 foot level since eye-level winds require a better understanding of the influence of local vegetation and topography near the burn site.  

For wildfires, we will provide all parameters (except smoke dispersion), so you do not need to waste time filling this in, unless you have a parameter that is particularly critical for you (in which case, this is a good place to indicate that).  

Forecasts for smoke dispersion forecasts are generally done in terms of mixing height (ft. AGL) and Transport Winds (mph).

Comments Section

Spot Remarks Example

If there is something else that you think we need to know, or something you couldn't fit elsewhere on the form, please enter it here. Comments or questions are welcome here.

The most common entry in this space is specification of the forecast periods for a prescribed burn.  

 

Submitting the form

Once clicking "Submit Request" button at the bottom of the page, various checks are performed on the data entered.   Some problems make it impossible for the request to be accepted (for example, forgetting to enter a name for the burn).  Other flags will produce warnings and informative tips, but the request can be sent anyway.  If a critical error is found, one only has the option to   go back and "fix the form" or "cancel the request."  After satisfying all the critical checks, and the requestor will gain the option of "send request anyway."  Once clicking this link, the request will be submitted and the Austin/San Antonio NWS Office will be automatically notified.

It doesn't hurt to call the NWS just to make sure the NWS Spot program is processing requests.  It is especially important to give a heads-up call if the spot forecast request is for wildfire support.


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