Wildfire activity continues at elevated levels across the United States and Canada, part of a decades-long trend of increasing intensity and scope [e.g., Collins 2014]. The average annual acreage burned in the U.S. is nearly 6.9 million over the past ten years, but in 2020, wildfires burned more than 8.5 million acres. Wildfires often threaten communities, displacing people and destroying buildings and infrastructure with greater impacts on socially vulnerable communities. About 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfires, with more than 2 million in California alone. Losses from wildfires added up to $75.88 billion over the past 10 years (National Centers for Environmental Information, Summary Statistics 2011) with an additional $2.3 billion/year (5-year average) in fire suppression costs (National Interagency Fire Center). In addition to the local impacts of wildfires on the forests, grasslands, and communities, there are regional and national impacts due to advection of smoke and wildfire emissions on air quality, health, and climate effects.
In order to reduce the devastating impacts of future wildfires on communities, immediate and swift attention on research for the total fire environment, both short-term and long-term efforts, and the delivery of that research to operational platforms and applications is crucial. The testbed proposed here would accelerate the delivery of critical products and technologies to those users that need them now.
Why a NOAA Fire Weather Testbed?
There is a growing demand across Federal, State, Local, and Tribal governments for new and improved models, technologies and tools to support decisions that involve the total fire environment forecast including fire weather, fire ignition, spread, and behavior. To completely address the total fire environment, a research testbed entirely focused on the wildland fire environment is essential.
NOAA is well-positioned to lead this testbed in strong collaboration with its partners. NOAA’s eleven testbeds are recognized as important mechanisms for transitioning research advances to applications (Davidson 2014). Additionally, recent reports (NOAA Science Advisory Board’s R&D Portfolio Review) call for an increasing use of testbeds for more effective transitions.
The Fire Weather Testbed would provide the infrastructure (virtual and on-site) and quasi-operational framework for researchers, operational experts, and partners across local/state/federal governments, academia, and private sector, and customers to work toward solutions that provide better operations, services and decision-making based on the latest science and research.
What are the objectives for the NOAA Fire Weather Testbed?
NOAA has five main objectives for the Fire Weather Testbed:
●Move advanced technologies and applications to operational platforms as quickly as possible.
●Bring the fire weather community together to leverage broad knowledge and expertise to understand information needs, and to co-create technology resulting in quicker technological advances. This includes developing strong collaborations with our partners at the National Interagency Fire Center and United States Department of Agriculture and its Forest Services.
●Leverage and partner (where possible) the expertise and capabilities of the other NOAA testbeds to accelerate and target the delivery of technologies to operational platforms and applications.
●Provide operations-to-research support to the fire environment research community with access to operational models, forecast tools and datasets.
●Reach beyond NOAA to build partnerships facilitating collaborations across the numerous municipalities engaged in wildland fires.
The NOAA Fire Weather Testbed is a collaborative effort between NOAA's GSL, National Weather Service (NWS), and National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS).