NOAA'S INCIDENT METEOROLOGISTS PROVIDE ACCURATE AND TIMELY WEATHER INFORMATION FOR EMERGENCY EVENTS
February 1, 2006 — Meteorologists with the NOAA National Weather Service have an important responsibility in meeting the NOAA National Weather Service mission of “saving lives and protecting property.” A group of 60 NOAA National Weather Service volunteers take this responsibility a step further and provide valuable weather information where it is needed most — in the field during critical, life threatening situations. These Incident Meteorologists (also known as IMETs) are dispatched to remote locations in support of wildfires and other hazardous situations. During fire season, or when other incidents require localized weather information, IMETs receive calls in a moment's notice, pack their bags, and quickly deploy to an incident command site anywhere in the country.
Once onsite, IMETs become key members of the incident command teams and provide continuous meteorological support for the duration of the incident. "The IMETs' primary objective is to promote crew safety and provide on-site tactical support to the management team," said Larry Van Bussum, NOAA National Weather Service's National Fire Weather Operations coordinator assigned to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
IMETs help fire control specialists from federal, state and local agencies by interpreting weather information, assessing its impact on the fire, and helping develop strategies to best fight the fires, while keeping both fire fighters and the general public safe. “It is the IMET's job to help make sure everyone stays safe and that the fires are extinguished as fast as possible," added Van Bussum.
is Fire Weather Important?
The course work assists IMET trainees in gaining knowledge of fuel types and fire behavior. At the IMET Workshop, typically held in Boise, Idaho, IMETs and IMET trainees work together to set up equipment used at an incident (satellite dish and laptop); participate in survival training; practice fire weather briefings; and share information and experiences on meso/microscale meteorology, best practices at an incident and fire weather forecasting techniques. IMET trainees begin work on their taskbook at the Workshop, which requires the completion of more than 150 tasks, and complete it by going on two fire assignments with a certified IMET.
When asked by an IMET trainee what was the hardest part about working a fire incident, Chris Maier, an IMET with the NOAA National Weather Service office in Juneau, Alaska, said, "adapting to the situation, which is different for each fire. Forecasting out of a fully functional NOAA National Weather Service office is one thing, but forecasting for wildfires from a mountain ridge top using a laptop computer and a few other instruments is something else altogether. Being an IMET is definitely a high-pressure job done under less than ideal circumstances."
Once an IMET receives dispatch orders, their home/office work schedule must be quickly adjusted to cover their duties, travel arrangements made and equipment/provisions packed. The average time from dispatch order to arrival on scene anywhere in the country is around 12 hours.
On lengthy incidents, IMETs typically serve 14 consecutive days before being swapped out by another IMET. Their days are long — waking up well before sunrise and working late into the night. Their jobs are both physically and mentally demanding.
stationed with the incident command team at a base camp near or a few
miles from the incident. IMETs and other incident personnel often sleep
in tents at the base camp, but it is not always a typical camping experience.
The base camp is often infiltrated with smoke and ash from surrounding
wildfires. It is usually in remote locations where electricity is supplied
by noisy diesel generators, there is no indoor plumbing and supplies must
be trucked in daily.
addition to being meteorologists, IMETS are also their own mechanics,
technicians, communicators, etc.," said Basil Newmerzhycky, an IMET
with the NOAA National Weather Service in Sacramento, Calif. “You
have to be very resourceful at times when you have to stand on your own
and there are limited resources.”
IMET on a large fire can be very intense, but also quite rewarding. "It
is a great feeling knowing that what an IMET does on a fire matters to
those on the front lines, " said Eric Evenson, an IMET with the NOAA
National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt. "We are challenged to
provide the best possible service, we accept the responsibility, and we
accomplish our mission. Our contributions make a difference and that is
While NOAA IMETs specialize in providing highly localized "on-site" meteorological support, other (off-site) NOAA entities contribute useful fire weather information on larger scales — at county, state and national levels. For example, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., provides daily "fire weather forecasts" for the contiguous 48 states and forecasters at NOAA's 122 local weather forecast offices predict weather in their specific areas of responsibility and issue "fire weather watches" and "red flag warnings" when appropriate.
National Interagency Fire Center — Includes latest news and glossary of wildfire terms