Georgia Fire Weather Services Operations Plan
Services Provided by the National Weather Service
Fire Weather Season
The fire weather season for Georgia is year round, with two distinct peak periods. The first begins in October, usually with the first killing frost of the season, and ends in early December with the beginning of the late autumn and early winter rain season. The second begins in late winter around the first of February and ends around mid to late May when full greening occurs. Since Georgia extends from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and has an elevation range of over 4500 feet, these dates vary for different parts of the state. Despite the two distinct seasons for which fire weather support is required, planning forecasts will be prepared year round.
Fire Weather Forecasts
The National Weather Service issues three types of forecasts for Georgia: planning forecasts (or routine or daily forecasts), spot forecasts, and NFDRS forecasts. In some cases an office may produce a specialized forecast called the "Fire Weather Point Forecast Matrices". More information on this can be obtained from your local NWS office.
The planning forecast (routine or daily forecast) is a general forecast issued at least twice daily, by 0700 LT in the morning and by 1530 LT in the afternoon. This forecast is used for day-to-day planning of land management operations and for determining general weather trends which might impact fire behavior. Counties usually will be grouped into distinct, climatologically homogeneous zones. Certain weather situations, however, may require changes in groupings to account for changing or unusual weather conditions. The planning forecast issued by a WFO will contain forecast values for the following weather elements: sky condition and weather; maximum and minimum temperatures; maximum and minimum relative humidities; wind speeds and directions; probability of precipitation and precipitation type. The forecast may also provide precipitation duration and amount; mixing heights; transport winds; inversion onset and burnoff times; inversion burnoff temperatures; ventilation rates; stability indices (i.e. Haines index and Davis index); Atmospheric Dispersion Index by Lavdas (ADI), Low Visibility Occurrence Risk Index (LVORI) and Lightning Activity Levels (LAL).
Spot forecasts are special, non-routine forecasts prepared upon request from user agencies that need site-specific weather forecasts for: 1) controlling the spread of wildfire; 2) planning and managing prescribed fires; or 3) other specialized forest management activities. Spot forecasts are highly detailed forecasts prepared for a specific location within the forecast area. The forecasts may contain any or all of the following weather elements: sky condition; maximum and minimum temperatures; maximum and minimum relative humidities; wind speeds and directions; probability of precipitation; precipitation type, duration and amount; mixing heights; transport winds; inversion heights; inversion onset and burnoff times; ventilation or smoke management levels; wind profiles; stability indices and lightning activity levels (LAL). In addition, the Hysplit computer model can be run for additional aid to smoke management. However, keep in mind this will take extra time and should be requested the previous day when possible.
Requests for Spot Forecasts
Spot forecasts for wildfire and prescribed burns will be prepared at any time when requested by a user agency, either by internet, phone, by fax or by some other agreed upon mode of communication. Because of the detailed and specific nature of this forecast product, it is imperative that the user provide the forecaster with necessary and sufficient information so that a reliable forecast can be prepared.
Requests for spot forecasts should be made by internet on the appropriate NWS WFO webpage, or as backup, on the Fire Weather Special Forecast Request form, WS_Form D-1. Required information on the request form should be filled out as completely as possible by the user agency prior to submitting the request to the forecast office. If the request is made verbally (by phone), all the essential information should be provided to the forecast office.
While there is no dedicated fire weather forecaster, the forecast office will give a high priority to spot forecasts in the absence of weather phenomena in the CWA that pose a threat to life and property. To ensure that the request for a spot forecast is handled promptly and appropriately, user agencies should adhere to the following guidelines.
2. Provide as much on-site or near-site weather information as is possible. At a minimum, the user must provide at least one observation within an hour of the request. This observation must contain the following: location of observation; elevation at observation site; time of observation; wind direction and speed and level (eye or 20-foot); dry and wet bulb temperatures; any remarks about the state of the weather, especially anything that might affect the fire behavior. If possible, include some observations from the previous day that might give the forecaster an indication of daily trends.
3. Specify, as much as possible, the time period for which the forecast is needed.
4. Specify, as much as possible, the weather elements of most importance for which a forecast is needed and/or critical values of these elements.
5. Provide a contact point name and phone number where the forecaster can call back, if necessary. Also include a fax number for returning completed forecasts as a backup to internet.
6. When faxing requests, call the office to let them know the fax is on its way. The forecaster is not always near the fax machine and might not discover the request in a timely manner.
National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) Forecasts
The land management agencies will determine which observation sites (normally RAWS sites) will be NFDRS sites. Initiation of NFDRS forecasts for a new site will be coordinated with the NWS, and the agency requesting new NFDRS service will provide the NWS with information about the site location.
The NFDRS forecast will be a forecast of the next day observation at 1300 LST. The forecast will include expected state of weather, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction at 1300 LST. The forecast also includes the expected lightning activity level for the next day and a half, the 24 hour maximum and minimum temperature and relative humidity, the 24 hour precipitation duration, and whether fuels will be wet (wet flag) at 1300 LST.
The land management agencies are responsible for taking, quality controlling, transmitting and archiving the NFDRS observations. Forecasts will only be prepared for predetermined sites. The NWS will prepare and transmit the NFDRS forecasts no later than 1530 LT. Although the data cutoff time for ingest into the NFDRS software is 1900 LT, preliminary calculations based on the forecast are used by the land managers to make staffing decisions by shift briefing time(1600 LT).
Fire Weather Watches and Warnings
During periods in which critical fire weather conditions are expected or are imminent, the NWS will issue watches and warnings to describe the level of urgency to the appropriate user agencies. These are usually coordinated with the land management agencies.
Definition of Red Flag Event
A Red Flag Event occurs when critical weather conditions develop which could lead to extensive wildfire occurrences or to extreme fire behavior. Red Flag Events represent a threat to life and property and may adversely impact fire fighting personnel and resources. While there are not uniformly accepted criteria for a red flag event in the Southeast, these criteria represent the requests of many user agencies. Critical weather conditions include combinations of the following: strong and/or gusty winds; low relative humidities; significant wind shifts; dry lightning. Typically, these weather conditions must be coupled with low fuel moistures, as determined by the appropriate land management agency.
The forecaster should usually coordinate with the affected customers, and come to an agreement on a Red Flag decision. Fuel moisture is usually determined by the land management agencies, however the forecaster should use 10 hour fuel moistures of 6 or 7 percent or less as a first guess for critically dry fuels.
Red Flag Warning
A Red Flag Warning shall be issued, usually after coordination with the appropriate land management agencies, when a Red Flag Event is occurring or is imminent. The warning shall be issued for all or a portion of the forecast area. It shall be issued as soon as possible, usually within 15 minutes, once the forecaster has determined that a Red Flag Event is ongoing. Otherwise, it shall be issued for impending Red Flag conditions when there is a high degree of confidence that conditions will develop within the next 24 hours but not more than 36 hours. The warning shall continue until the conditions cease to exist or fail to develop as forecast. At such time, the warning shall be cancelled.
Fire Weather Watch
A Fire Weather Watch shall be issued, usually after coordination with the appropriate land management agencies, to advise of the possible development of a Red Flag Event in the near future. It shall be issued for all or a portion of the forecast area. The Fire Weather Watch is issued when the forecaster is reasonably confident that a Red Flag Event will occur. A watch should be issued 12 to 96 hours in advance of the expected onset of the critical weather conditions. The watch shall remain in effect until the forecaster determines that either the Red Flag Event will not develop or that the watch should be upgraded to a warning. If conditions are not expected to occur as forecast, the watch shall be cancelled.
Fire Danger Statement
When fuels are critically dry and critical or near-critical fire weather conditions are expected, the NWS may issue a Fire Danger Statement, usually after coordination with the appropriate land management agencies. General weather criteria for such statements will be RH 25% or less or 15 mph or greater sustained winds and/or frequent gusts of 25 mph or greater. The NWS will use the Special Weather Statement (i.e., ATLSPSFFC) product for issuing Fire Danger Statements. A Fire Danger Statement will NOT be issued if a Red Flag Warning or Fire Weather Watch is in effect.
The primary means of communication used by the NWS is Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS). Products transmitted through AWIPS include: planning forecasts, NFDRS forecasts, Fire Weather Watches, Red Flag Warnings, Fire Danger Statements and Fire Weather Point Forecast Matrices, if issued.
Spot forecasts will be disseminated only to the requesting agency by means of internet, or as a backup, telefax (FAX). Therefore, anytime a request for a spot forecast is made, the requesting agency must include a FAX number. A voice number should also be included in the event problems arise with the FAX transmission.
Public products produced by the National Weather Service are available over NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). As of January 31, 2012, the following NWR transmitters service Georgia.
Other means of communications may be utilized upon mutual agreement with user agencies.
Participation in Interagency Groups
The NWS and its customers will meet from time to time, for the purpose of reviewing the operational relationships agreed to in this plan, and as partners in other interagency meetings.
Meetings may be between one NWS office and all of its customers from several states, a state meeting of all NWS offices and fire weather customers within one state, or a meeting conducted by a customer group with the NWS offices invited either individually or collectively.
Customers may at times invite NWS representatives to serve on an interagency group at either the state or national level. These groups may serve a variety of purposes, such as program review, service evaluation, scientific advisory, or joint decision making.
Special Fire Weather Services
Special fire weather services are those services that are uniquely required by land management agencies and go beyond the normal forecast operations of the NWS. Special services include Advanced Technology Meteorological Unit (ATMU), All-Hazards Meteorological Response System (AMRS) and Incident Meteorologist (IMET) deployment, station visits, weather observer training, participation in user agency personnel training, and other pertinent meteorological services.
Typically, special services require NWS personnel to be away from the Forecast Office and, in some instances, be in overtime status. User agencies are responsible for covering the cost of NWS overtime, travel and per diem expenses. Reimbursement of costs for special services will be as outlined in the Interagency Agreement for Meteorological Services.
ATMU, AMRS, IMET Services
The Advanced Technology Meteorological Unit (ATMU) is a modularized and mobile system of equipment used by an Incident Meteorologist (IMET) for data collection and product preparation. The ATMU is a national resource. ATMUs are cached around the country, mostly in the western states. The nearest ATMU cache to Georgia is London, KY, where two are maintained.
The ATMU consists of a theodolite with a tripod, a belt weather kit, a nozzle and regulator for a helium tank. A second module, known as the All-hazards Meteorological Response System (AMRS), contains a laptop computer, a portable satellite communication system for obtaining weather data, a printer and office supplies and miscellaneous expendables. This module is also a national resource, but is located at the National Weather Service offices that have an IMET on station.
Requests for the ATMU, AMRS, and IMET should be made through the USDA Forest Service Region 8 Dispatch. Typically, the IMET nearest the incident will be deployed. However, during times of limited resources, IMETs from other areas of the country may be called. The decision will be made by the National Fire Weather Operations Coordinator (NFWOC) in conjunction with the MIC and IMET from the affected offices.
The mobilization of the ATMU, AMRS and the IMET is coordinated through the Southern Area Interagency Coordination Center, the Southern Area Interagency Fire Cache, and the Interagency State Coordination Center. Demobilization is coordinated at the incident. For more specific information, reference the Southern Area and the National Interagency Mobilization Guides.
The requesting agency is responsible for any storage of the unit while in transit, and shelter for the IMET and unit at the site. A sheltered work area, of at least 50 square feet with a table and chair, must be protected from excessive dust, free of standing water or condensation, and must be heated and/or cooled sufficiently to allow efficient operation of equipment. Power (120V AC) must be provided for the AMRS electrical equipment and priority telephone access during certain short periods each day must be made available.
Upon arrival at the incident and after going through the appropriate check-in procedures, the IMET will:
2. Establish a schedule with the PSC and the FBAN for written forecasts and formal briefings.
3. Request a briefing of the fire situation and potential behavior problems from the FBAN. As time and resources permit, incident management should arrange for an areal inspection trip for the meteorologist and should provide the forecaster with current fireline maps. If possible, the IMET should be assigned a radio with the fireline frequency.
4. Arrange for a schedule of observations from key points around the fire and from nearby lookouts and fire danger stations, in cooperation with the FBAN and PSC. On large fires, some personnel (at least two) should be permanently assigned to this duty. On smaller fires, this information can be provided by Division Supervisors equipped with belt weather kits.
Fire Weather Training
NWS meteorologists will be available to assist in user-oriented training, such as at fire behavior schools (e.g. S-290, S-390, S-490), and weather related courses. Requests should be made through the Meteorologist-in-Charge as early as possible after dates for such training have been determined.
Other Special Services
Other special services include weather station visits by user agency personnel, weather observer training, and course development work. These activities would typically be at the full expense of the requesting agency unless other arrangements have been made.