The Fire Weather Alert System (FWAS) is a mobile application that alerts on-the-ground firefighters to dangerous weather conditions approaching their area. Users set custom weather thresholds and the FWAS sends alerts when those thresholds are exceeded. FWAS monitors several types of weather measurements (RAWS, radar, etc.) and short-term forecasts to alert firefighters of dangerous weather such as high winds, low RH, thunderstorms, and Red Flag Warnings. Users can easily view fire-relevant data such as RAWS data, zone fire weather forecasts, and VIIRS/MODIS hot spot detects in the map-based interface.
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Summary article: FWAS: An Early Warning System For Wildland Firefighters.
Many firefighters have been injured or killed due to rapid changes in weather causing unexpected fire behavior. Examples include the thunderstorm outflow that killed 19 on the Yarnell Hill Fire, the cold front passage that killed 14 on the South Canyon Fire, and the wind shift that killed 3 on the Twisp River Fire. Many of these weather events can easily be predicted and observed by tools that exist today (e.g., short-term high-resolution forecast models, radar data, nearby weather stations). Tragically, these tools and the data they provide are underutilized by on-the-ground firefighters, which leads to many preventable accidents. Some of the reasons for underutilization are that: 1) this information is difficult to access on mobile devices in the field, 2) the information is scattered among several web sites, 3) some of the information is difficult to interpret because it is intended for weather experts, and 4) firefighters do not have enough time to devote to gathering this weather information.
Researchers developed the Fire Weather Alert System to alleviate many of these issues. Users simply provide the system with a location and custom weather thresholds to watch for. The system continuously checks the many data sources that exist for exceedance of those thresholds. Thresholds can be set for wind speed, temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, thunderstorms, and National Weather Service issued Watches, Warnings, or Advisories. Users are alerted when one of these thresholds is reached. The alert includes information about what threshold was met, where, and from what source (a nearby RAWS station, short-term forecast, radar data, etc.)
The Fire Weather Alert System also allows users to query and view RAWS and other surface observing station data, view the fire weather zone forecast, see and read all active NWS WW&A, see MODIS and VIIRS hotspot data, view incident information and fire perimeters, and more. FWAS provides on-the ground users with an easy-to-use custom weather delivery system that has the potential to increase safety and inform decision making on wildland fire incidents.
Here are some things you can do with the FWAS:
- CUSTOM WEATHER ALERTS
- Get custom weather alerts when wind speed, wind gust, relative humidity, air temperature, and precipitation exceed your set thresholds.
- Monitor RAWS/ASOS stations and short-term forecasts (HRRR model).
- Designate the watch area for your fire.
- Receive alerts via in-app messages, text, and/or email.
- VIEW RAWS DATA
- Select weather stations from a map and view data in graph and tabular form.
- Access RAWS, iRAWS, ASOS, and other station networks.
- VIEW SATELLITE HOTSPOTS
- Display VIIRS and MODIS hotspots on the map.
- VIEW INCIDENT LOCATIONS AND FIRE PERIMETERS
- View incident name, type, size, and most recent perimeter (including smaller IA fires).
- VIEW NWS WATCHES, WARNINGS AND ADVISORIES
- See National Weather Service Active Alerts on the map and read the text.
- Monitor Red Flag Warnings, Fire Weather Watches, Wind Advisories, Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, etc.
- ACCESS ZONE FIRE WEATHER FORECASTS
- Access and read your local fire weather forecast.
- See fire weather zone names and boundaries on the map.
- MONITOR APPROACHING STORMS WITH NEXRAD RADAR
- Display animated radar data on the map.
The current FWAS is a starting framework for a robust fire weather alerting and planning system. Researchers are actively developing the FWAS and some future enhancements include:
- Ground-based and satellite-based lightning detection for viewing and alerts.
- Alerts for approaching thunderstorms based on NEXRAD radar data.
- Allow users to share watches and broadcast messages. This functionality could be particularly useful for IMETs.
- The ability to save, share, and post groups of alert thresholds. For example, a firefighter could store the set of thresholds that work well on their home unit for future use. These could be shared with other users, or posted so that others could access them. This would be a similar idea to how the Fire Danger Pocket Cards are posted for different units across the country, except it would be built into the app.
- The ability to combine thresholds. For example, a firefighter could get an alert if RH was less than 20% AND wind was greater than 15 mph.
- Ability to easily view the NWS Fire Weather Matrices.
- Incorporation of automated thunderstorm microburst and gust front detection algorithms currently used by the FAA for making real-time aircraft safety decisions.
- Incorporate alerts related to fire danger and fire behavior.
- Add cameras as a map layer.
- Add cell coverage as a map layer.
- Add ability to see the current spot weather forecasts as a map layer.
- Add lightning probability data.