Wildfire prediction tool may save lives in 2016

Posted at 6:54 PM, Dec 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-29 20:54:17-05

A new, first-of-its-kind fire prediction tool will begin testing in the new year. The system, developed by Boulder's National Center for Atmospheric Research, has been in development for more than two decades. Researchers say it could save money and lives.

When a wildfire is big enough it creates its own weather.

“The fire creates a lot of heat and a lot of moisture that changes the local weather patterns, causes and very strong updraft, sometimes it causes thunderstorms which are called pyro-cumulous clouds. You can get fire tornadoes, bursts of fire. If you can't anticipate those and plan accordingly you might be in trouble,” said Bill Mahoney, deputy Director of the Research Application Laboratory at NCAR.

Now, forecasters say they could be one step ahead of mother nature.

“We needed faster computers that were not super expensive, we needed new data sets from satellites and from aircraft that would provide updates on where the fire is going so the model can initialize correctly. And those weren't available 10 or 15 years ago,” Mahoney said.

He says a first-of-its kind prediction tool will help firefighters on the ground and property owners who need to hit the road.

“The system is initially going to be set up to run an 18-hour forecast of the fire behavior. They can take those coordinates, put it into the system, ignite the fire in the model prediction system and then within a few minutes get an output that would show what the fire is going to do in the future,” he said.