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An evaluation of NDFD weather forecasts for wildland fire behavior prediction

Author(s): Wesley G. Page, Natalie S. Wagenbrenner, Bret W. Butler, Jason M. Forthofer, Chris Gibson
Year Published: 2018

Wildland fire managers in the United States currently utilize the gridded forecasts from the National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) to make fire behavior predictions across complex landscapes during large wildfires. However, little is known about the NDFDs performance in remote locations with complex topography for weather variables important for fire behavior prediction, including air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed. In this study NDFD forecasts for calendar year 2015 were evaluated in fire-prone locations across the conterminous United States during periods with the potential for active fire spread using the model performance statistics of root-mean-square error (RMSE), mean fractional bias (MFB), and mean bias error (MBE). Results indicated that NDFD forecasts of air temperature and relative humidity performed well with RMSEs of about 2°C and 10%-11%, respectively. However, wind speed was increasingly under-predicted when observed wind speeds exceeded about 4ms-1, with MFB and MBE values of approximately -15% and -0.5ms-1, respectively. The importance of accurate wind speed forecasts in terms of fire behavior prediction was confirmed, and the forecast accuracies needed to achieve ‘‘good’’ surface head fire rate-of-spread predictions were estimated as +/-20%-30% of the observed wind speed. Weather station location, the specific forecast office, and terrain complexity had the largest impacts on wind speed forecast error, although the relatively low variance explained by the model (~37%) suggests that other variables are likely to be important. Based on these results it is suggested that wildland fire managers should use caution when utilizing the NDFD wind speed forecasts if high wind speed events are anticipated.

Citation: Page, Wesley G.; Wagenbrenner, Natalie S.; Butler, Bret W.; Forthofer, Jason M.; Gibson, Chris. 2018. An evaluation of NDFD weather forecasts for wildland fire behavior prediction. Weather and Forecasting. 33: 301-315.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Data Evaluation or Data Analysis for Fire Modeling, Weather
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18326
Record updated: Nov 7, 2018