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Home » Focus Areas » Fire weather

Fire Weather Research

Main Image

Photo credit: Steve and Susan Williams, Nederland, Colorado fire 2016

Atmospheric aerosols in wildfire smoke and air pollution cause respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases that result in an estimated 4.2 million deaths each year worldwide. The transportation industry also benefits from GSL’s research with better forecasts of the impact of wildfire smoke on visibility.

However, there are gaps in our understanding of the weather that generates wildland fire conditions.

GSL is leading research that improves forecasts of wildfire smoke and other pollutants. Our research investigates:

How do wildfires, weather, and climate impact how a fire spreads and behaves?

How do fire emissions, trace gases, smoke, and aerosols, develop and produce hazardous air quality conditions?

How can forecasters, emergency managers, and other users best communicate fire information to the public?

Existing Solutions for New Problems

Fire weather modeling: RAP Smoke

RAP Smoke GSL's Rapid Refresh - Smoke (RAP-Smoke) model simulates the emissions and transport of smoke from wildfires and predicts the impact of smoke on the weather on a 13km grid. RAP Smoke estimates “near-surface smoke” which impacts air quality and visibility) and “vertically integrated smoke” which predicts smoke concentrations from the surface to about 25km in the atmosphere. The RAP-Smoke domain covers the entire North and Central Americas.
Visit the RAP Smoke site ↗

Fire weather modeling: HRRR Smoke

HRRR Smoke GSL’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh-Smoke (HRRR-Smoke) model simulates the emissions and transport of smoke from wildfires and predicts the impact of smoke on the weather on a 3km grid. HRRR Smoke estimates “near-surface smoke” which impacts air quality and visibility and “vertically integrated smoke” which predicts smoke concentrations from the surface to about 25km in the atmosphere.
Visit the HRRR Smoke site ↗

Fire weather modeling: Experimental Hourly Wildfire Potential (HWP)

Experimental Hourly Wildfire Potential GSL's Experimental Hourly Wildfire Potential (HWP) is an index derived from the HRRR model predictions of temperature, winds, and soil moisture conditions. To check out this experimental index, visit the HRRR model website and look for the “Hourly Wildfire Potential” parameter on the left side of the matrix table.
View HWP data on the HRRR site ↗

Air Quality Monitoring: RAP-Chem

RAP Chem The Rapid-Refresh model coupled to chemistry (RAP-Chem) is a next-generation coupled weather/air quality experimental forecasting system that has been operating at NOAA GSL since July 2020. The model includes anthropogenic, wildfire, and natural emission sources and simulates full gas-phase and aerosol chemistry and transport allowing prediction of both primary and secondary pollutants (e.g., ozone and secondary organic aerosols) produced from wildfire emissions in addition to their impacts on weather. Experimental products include forecasts of air quality index as well as UV-index, Ozone forecasts, and PM2.5 forecasts, all including fire weather.
Visit the RAP-Chem site ↗

Air Quality Monitoring: GEFS-Aerosols

GEFS Aerosol GSL led the development of the Global Ensemble Forecast System - Aerosols (GEFS-Aerosols) model. GEFS-Aerosols is an atmospheric composition model that integrates weather and air quality forecasts to produce week-long forecasts of aerosol components including wildfire smoke, soot, organic carbon, particulate sulfate, dust, sea salt, and volcanic ash. This model was implemented into NOAA operations on September 23, 2020 as one of the ensemble members of the Global Ensemble Forecast System.
Visit the GEFS-Aerosols site ↗

HRRR Smoke tour and the 2020 Fire Weather Season

This tour, created by GSL walks viewers through the 2020 fire season and how HRRR Smoke can be used to show how the smoke from wildfires moves across the U.S.

Future Work

GSL research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric physics, and developing models that predict smoke from wildfires. Future research will involve predicting fire behavior and developing decision support criteria. Our laboratory’s research will:

  • Expedite the transition of new technologies to operations for the fire weather community through a new Wildfire Testbed.
  • Improve ways to respond to a fire already burning that support earlier communication and allow resources to extinguish early fires quickly.
  • Provide forecasts and products to prepare communities for impacts after a wildfire, such as debris flows and mudslides.
  • Provide better weather forecasts to power providers to mitigate risks and prepare for potential power impacts resulting from wildfires such as arcing of power lines or failures in the transmission system.
  • Use research and modeling to protect firefighters and residents from smoke and dangerous air.
  • Provide actionable information to help communities stay safe during a wildfire.
  • Integrate social science with meteorology to improve communication of the risk of wildfire and smoke to all stakeholders.
  • Develop seasonal forecasts to provide communities with information that helps them gauge future wildfire risks.


GSL fire weather research collaborators include:

  • Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
  • Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere
  • NOAA/NASA Joint Polar Satellite System Program
  • U.S. Geological Service
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Federal Aviation Administration