Fire on the Mountain


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What we in the Southern Rockies call Fire Season has already begun.

This tale needs no introduction. It is a wonder of American journalism, a superb work of narrative journalism – worth awards. I thank the Atlantic for publishing it and the special skill dedicated to the supplements part of the online edition. I thank Brian Mockenhaupt for his writing.

Thanks, Mike, for the suggestion.

Texas Forest Service watches for wildfires before they burn

Texas wildfires
Click to enlargeDoD/Eric Harris
A C-130H Hercules drops a line of fire retardant in West Texas on April 27, 2011

It’s around 5 p.m. on a warm Sunday in April 2014, and there is a 1,000-acre wildfire burning in Northwest Texas. The area is under a “Red Flag” warning, meaning that high winds and low humidity are likely to make the fire extremely difficult to fight. By 10 p.m. the fire is just 60 percent contained.

April is near the peak of the region’s winter-spring fire season, and the Texas A&M Forest Service is working hard to stay one step ahead of its wildfires. Using NOAA’s monitoring tools, the agency’s Predictive Services team watches for environmental patterns that signal rough days ahead.

The 14-member Predictive Services department commands about $1.2 million, less than 2 percent of the Forest Service’s total budget, but it’s a key part of the agency’s wildfire response. Its findings underlie many of the preventive and proactive measures the state takes to defend against its sometimes cataclysmic fire seasons…

Predictive Service head Tom Spencer checks in routinely with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, making note of shorter-term weather predictions, longer-term climate models, droughts and other data. NOAA’s Fire Weather monitoring tool provides him with detailed forecasts for regions across the United States, including a 7-day forecast and hourly updates on conditions that may influence fire activity. Spencer also relies on NOAA’s drought monitors, which track drought outbreaks and provide perspective on drought scope and severity around the country…

On that particular April Sunday the agency was helping tackle at least six infernos, but this fire season has been a fairly moderate one for Texas. Around this time three years ago there were 1.5 million acres burning every day for about three weeks straight.

RTFA for the story of the systems brought to play on Texas wildfires. Understand what fire-forecasting has on offer especially for local and rural fire departments with nothing like the resources needed to fight a major wildfire.

Interesting stuff. Useful – like most real science. So far, most Texas politicians seem to be staying out of the way.