National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


Southeast Alaska Fire Weather Program

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National Weather Service forecast offices across the country issue a variety of products on the local scale to support fire agency planning and suppression efforts. These include routine fire weather planning forecasts, point and area forecasts, watches and warnings for critical fire weather events, and site specific spot forecasts for wildland fires. Digital fire weather planning data are also provided to agencies via the Internet and other methods.

Depending on weather and fuel conditions, WFO Juneau typically begins issuing a 6am daily fire weather forecast beginning May 1 and ending around August 31, for Southeast Alaska. Forests management includes multiple US Forest Service Ranger Districts and State Forests such as: Tongass National Forest, Haines State Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, Admiralty Island, Misty Fjords National Monument, and Southeast Alaska Native Trust Lands.

The forecast contains weather information relevant to fire control and smoke management for the next five days, with detailed info for the first 36 hours. The appropriate crews use this information to plan for staffing and equipment levels, the ability to do prescribed burns, and assess the daily fire danger.

The elements of the daily fire weather forecast include:

  • A synopsis describing the general weather pattern and what this means to fire weather elements
  • Cloud cover, precipitation type, chance of precipitation, chance of wetting rain, max and min temperature, 20 ft wind.
  • Max and min RH (relative humidity), temperature trend, RH trend
  • A general outlook for days 3 through 5 that includes the entire Panhandle

The local weather office also, under a prescribed set of criteria, will determine if a Fire Weather Watch or a Red Flag Warning needs to be issued. These products alert not only the public, but other agencies that conditions are creating the potential for extreme fire behavior.

On the national level, the NWS Storm Prediction Center issues fire weather analyses for days one and two. These include large-scale areas that may experience critical fire weather conditions including the occurrence of "dry thunderstorms." These are thunderstorms, usually occurring in the western U.S., that are not accompanied by any rain due to it evaporating before reaching the surface.

A RED FLAG WARNING is issued when critical weather conditions occur or are expected to occur in the next 24 hours. Before issuing a Red Flag Warning, the duty forecaster will consult with the Alaska Incident Command Center Predictive Services (AICC) to confer on fuel conditions. If a fuel condition consultation with the AICC is not possible, forecasters will use the fuel conditions posted on the AICC web site as the basis for issuing a Warning/Watch when Red Flag Warning/Fire Weather Watch conditions are anticipated.


Alaska Red Flag Warning & Fire Weather Watch Criteria
(if combined with burnable fuels)
  1. Temperature ≥ 75F
  2. Strong Wind: Wind* ≥ 15 mph
  3. Low Humidity: RH ≤ 25%
Dry Thunderstorms: Dry thunderstorms with a scattered coverage (25% areal) and < 0.10" rainfall
*Wind is defined as frequent gusts or sustained for one-hour duration or more.


A FIRE WEATHER WATCH is issued when there is a high potential for the development of a red flag event. A watch will only be issued or continued in the first 12 hour time period for dry thunderstorm events. A watch may be issued for all or selected locations within a fire weather zone or region.

Red Flag Warnings, Watches, and Fire Weather Forecasts are amended when -

  • The forecast wind direction differs from observed wind direction by 90 degrees or more when the observed sustained wind speed is greater than 10 mph.
  • The observed sustained wind speed differs from the forecast wind speed by 10 mph or more.
  • The observed RH is less than 50% and the forecast RH minus the observed RH is greater than 10%. Example: the observed RH is 35% and we forecast 50%.
  • No thunderstorms are forecast and thunderstorms develop.
  • A Red Flag Warning or Fire Weather Watch is issued or cancelled.


SPOT Forecasts are issued for wild land fires, controlled burns, search and rescue, and HAZMAT. Spots are available by request 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

State and federal forestry officials sometimes request a forecast from a WFO for a specific location called a "spot forecast." Spot forecasts are used to determine whether it will be safe to ignite a prescribed burn and how to situate crews during the controlling phase. Officials send in a request, usually during the early morning, containing the position coordinates of the proposed burn, the ignition time, and other pertinent information. The WFO composes a short-term fire weather forecast for the location and sends it back to the officials, usually within an hour of receiving the request.

Requests for SPOT forecasts are submitted primarily via a web based program, which triggers an alarm on the forecasters computer and they will then issue the forecast. Spot requests may also be received by phone or fax but users are encouraged to use the web version.

Local, state, and federal officials can learn how to request SPOT Forecasts through their parent agency or by calling their local WFO. 


Incident Meteorologists

The Juneau Forecast Office also provides meteorological support to NWS incident meteorologists, also known as IMETs, who may be deployed to a fire location. These specially trained fire weather forecasters (more than 80 certified nationwide) can be sent to remote locations throughout the United States to support wildfire operations. IMETs provide weather information tailored to a specific fire. This on-site weather support helps ensure fire crew safety and provides tactical information to the fire management team for fire suppression. IMETs receive special training in microscale forecasting, fire behavior, and fire operations, and are a key member of the fire management team.

Incident meteorologists utilize special mobile equipment to provide on-site fire weather forecasts, and can support prescribed burning projects. This equipment is known as the All-hazards Meteorological Response System and gives the IMET a workstation similar to that used at a National Weather Service forecast office. In very remote locations, the AMRS can also use satellite technology to allow IMET access to almost all National Weather Service weather information, including the latest surface and upper air observations, Doppler weather radar and weather satellite data.


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