Meteorologists from the National Weather Service offices in Lubbock and Amarillo converged on the southeastern Texas Panhandle Wednesday night (April 2nd) for a unique gathering of first responders and local decision makers. The ninety-minute training session, held at the Clarendon College Bairfield Activity Center in Clarendon, focused on educating volunteer firefighters and other local authorities on the relationships between weather and wildfire activity in west Texas, and the National Weather Service’s Fire Weather and Red Flag Warning Programs.
National Weather Service meteorologists from both Lubbock and Amarillo routinely travel to communities across west Texas each spring in advance of the severe weather season to provide valuable Skywarn Storm Spotter training to our first responders and other storm spotting agencies. Wednesday night’s event in Clarendon, however, was the first such program to be conducted in the region by the National Weather Service specifically emphasizing the weather’s influence on dangerous fire behavior and the fire weather services offered by the agency for fire planning management and mitigation.
The National Weather Service has a long history of supporting local officials during wildfires and other non-meteorological incidents across the country. For decades, “Incident Meteorologists” have deployed to the scene of high-impact emergencies in support of authorities making weather sensitive decisions. Since the devastating wildfires that impacted west Texas in 2006, weather forecasters and local emergency management officials in west Texas have placed a heightened priority on fire weather prediction and services. That year, the largest wildfires in Texas history scorched more than a million acres of drought-stricken prairie and caused extensive damages in the Panhandle, and killed 19 people statewide. Volunteer fire departments in the southeastern Panhandle battled many of the 2006 wildfires from the frontlines.
Following the tragic 2006 fire season, the National Weather Service in Lubbock has led efforts to improve fire weather forecasts and warnings in west Texas. Recent local fire meteorology studies show that although a majority of fires are sparked by human activity, dangerous wind-driven wildfires on the west Texas plains are driven by meteorology and only evolve in the presence of favorable weather conditions. With the state of Texas currently experiencing an active wildfire season, Wednesday night’s fire weather training served as a “proof-of-concept” for sharing fire weather expertise with local firefighting and emergency personnel. More than fifty members representing seven agencies were in attendance, including:
Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department
Hedley Volunteer Fire Department
Howardwick Volunteer Fire Department
Donley County Sheriff’s Office
Clarendon Family Medical Center
National Weather Service – Amarillo
National Weather Service – Lubbock
If your South Plains firefighting or emergency management agency would be interested in hosting a similar fire weather training session, please contact your National Weather Service in Lubbock.