USA – ST. CLOUD — A St. Cloud State University professor along with the U.S. Forest Service has created a new tool that could help better forecast wildland fires.
Alan Srock is an associate professor of meteorology at St. Cloud State. He helped create the Hot-Dry-Windy Index tool. Srock says HDW is able to give people who are tracking fires a better idea of where they are headed.
“HDW is designed basically to help people who are forecasting what wildland fire is going to do, where it is going to move, how quickly it will spread.”
Srock says the index uses large-scale weather events to make predictions on where wildland fires might occur.
“So if you have a major weather system moving in and we can forecast this maybe a couple days in advance, we can give people some information that will help the decision-making process. So maybe where to position firefighters on the ground, how to attack different aspects of the fire, where to build firebreaks, things like that.”
Several other indexes exist to make wildland fire predictions but what makes HDW stand out is it looks at variables on a larger scale. Srock says several other methods can be confusing and often include looking at several variables, one could say an area is at a low risk while another could say the same area is at a high risk. With HDW it’s using what meteorologists already know about weather patterns to make predictions.
“One of the things that we did was said let’s focus on the large-scale weather patterns and phenomena that we can predict. If we can predict it then we have more confidence in this is a forecast. So we’re looking specifically at the large-scale weather component and saying, the people who are out there fighting the fires on the ground, they know what the fuel status is, they know what the trees are like, they know how dry things are, they are living in it. What we can help with is the larger scale weather and by focusing on one thing that we have more confidence in we can help them make better decisions, hopefully.”
The Hot-Dry-Windy Index has been in the works for about five years. Srock says it was released to the public this past summer.
SCSU students also have the opportunity to learn more about HDW. Srock says although wildland fires aren’t as common here in Minnesota it’s still good material for students to learn.
“We don’t have as big of fires in Minnesota as we do in say California or Oregon. But the students have been involved. I’ve had a couple of students who have actually helped with the creation and then the distribution of the index. It’s more been that they have helped with the research components as opposed to using it in their forecasting.”
St. Cloud State University has a link to the full academic journal report on the Hot-Dry-Windy Index. Follow the link below if you’re interested.