“By forces seemingly antagonistic and destructive, Nature accomplishes her beneficent designs.
Now a flood of fire, now a flood of ice, now a flood of water; and again in the fullness of time an outburst of organic life.” – John Muir
The words of Muir give nature a spiritual dimension. As meaningful and descriptive as they may be, the subject is often a serious one. Throughout California and many western states, there are hundreds of wildfires burning. So far, our surrounding mountains have been spared. But, as the coastal fog recedes, high pressure builds over the Four Corners region (Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico); once again, temperatures began to rise. With these conditions also comes low humidity and increased fire danger.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA are in agreement: 2014 was the hottest year on record (State of the Climate Report, July 2014). The report represents the work of more than 400 scientists from 58 countries; it does not pertain to specific regions, but the entire planet. Don’t put the sunscreen away – on Aug. 19 NOAA predicted 2015 could easily exceed last year’s record and become the new “hottest year on record.” Observed temperatures so far, plus the upcoming strong El Niño, are both indicators. NOAA’s data goes back to 1880, but other sources reveal July as possibly the hottest month worldwide in 4,000 years.
Presently, our biggest weather-related concern is loss of life and destruction from wildfires. As children we learned and appreciated the heroic role firefighters played in combating forest fires. For many of us, Smokey Bear helped explain and promote fire safety. His assistance to the field of firefighting goes without saying. But, long, long before Smokey emerged from his den, a scientific means of assistance was established – incident meteorologists (IMETs). I’m humbled to say, as a wife of a firefighter, this profession and field of study was unbeknownst to me.
Several years and two kids ago, without a doubt I would have jumped at the chance to become an IMET. The National Weather Service’s (NWS) job description of such – “fire weather forecaster” – says it all: “This specialized team of meteorologists provides accurate, on-site weather forecast, warning, and consultation services to help firefighters, incident responders, and command staff manage wildfires … safely and effectively.”
The specialized field of IMETs began in 1914, working with fire behavior analysts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, the Dept. of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, and many federal, state and local firefighting agencies.
Trained in both fire behavior and fire operations, IMETs are often sent into remote locations to evaluate conditions in advance of the fire crews. An accurate forecast by them can save lives, as a slight turn in the weather can cause a fire to become erratic. Wind speed, humidity, pressure gradients, and current weather are studied. The results are then sent ahead to incident commanders to best decide on movement and location of firefighters. Needing to be portable, an IMET uses a laptop PC to ascertain critical information from Doppler weather radar, computer forecast models and satellite images. Mother Nature, a tough force to reckon with, may have met her match.
Thursday and Friday thermometer readings are expected in excess of 100 degrees; by Saturday temperatures will begin to drop. A cooling trend takes us into next week when marine influence moves inland. Refreshing and welcomed, below normal temperatures are predicted.
I call that “good weather!”
Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.