Fire weather prediction is not easy — there are so many different types of challenges that forecasters face both before a wildfire sparks and even while it’s active. These fires can ignite any time, and anywhere. So many different factors must be considered before estimating how quickly one can spread, and how deeply it may impact our lives and our communities.

“The biggest challenges involve forecasting in complex terrain, a ‘fuels assessment,’ and communicating the message of risk,” Heath Hockenberry, National Fire Weather Program Manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s National Weather Service, said last week. “Complex terrain includes steep slopes, intersecting valleys and other geographic factors that cause small-scale changes in weather. Meteorologists still have to interpret and improve the highly complex weather models to make them actually work when the mountains and valleys change the winds and rainfall.”

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