Predicting wildfire risks

NCAR supports university-led initiative to better forecast destructive blazes

Sep 30, 2020 - by David Hosansky

With wildfires becoming a growing threat, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is supporting a major, university-led initiative to better forecast the destructive events.

The project brings together scientists and engineers to develop a new computational platform to predict wildfire risks days to weeks before a blaze occurs. This will enable wildfire managers, emergency responders, and utility companies to better anticipate where and when fires may break out so they can make plans and mobilize resources ahead of time.

The project is led by Hamed Ebrahimian, a professor of engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, and it includes researchers from the Desert Research Institute; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University at Buffalo. It is funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's sponsor, through the Leading Engineering for America's Prosperity, Health, and Infrastructure (LEAP-HI) Program.

“The goal is to develop a unique system for detailed assessments of wildland fire risk, alerting residents and firefighters days to weeks in advance of the potential for a major fire,” said NCAR scientist Branko Kosovic. “Such predictions can be vital for reducing the likelihood of a major fire and enabling fire crews to respond more rapidly in the event of a blaze igniting.”

Kosovic, who is leading the NCAR portion, will focus on combining satellite imagery of land surfaces with highly detailed weather forecasts. He'll work with university scientists and students to feed this data into an advanced computer model known as WRF-Fire (the fire component of the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecasting model), which will help identify areas most at risk from blazes.

The LEAP-HI project is an extension of NCAR's research into wildland fire prediction, a challenging area of science that combines fine-scale weather prediction with data about ground conditions and simulations of how major fires influence local atmospheric conditions.

"This project will raise up the state of the science for the entire field of wildfire prediction," Kosovic said.

For more about the LEAP-HI project, see the University of Nevada article.


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