National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce




National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists play a vital role in supporting efforts to control wildfires that rage across the United States each year.

Up-to-date weather information can be critical to fire fighting agencies. Weather and fuel conditions are key ingredients in fire behavior. Accurate forecasts of wind direction and speed help incident commanders make the best decisions to contain wildfires. NWS forecasters are specially trained in mesoscale and microscale meteorology and employ a variety of special tools to issue forecasts that contribute to the safety of all personnel involved in fire containment. Routine fire weather forecasts are issued twice a day (morning and late afternoon) during the summer fire season and special site-specific, spot forecasts are prepared on demand.

Since 1914, NWS meteorologists have worked closely with fire control specialists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, and other federal, state and local fire control agencies responsible for fire suppression. NWS forecasters monitor meteorological conditions continuously and provide input critical to forming fire control strategies and management of activities aimed at protecting people and valuable renewable resources.

Specially trained NWS meteorologists called Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) provide site-specific weather forecasts for wildfires of all sizes - from half an acre to many thousands of acres.

The National Weather Service is an agency of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.



In the NWS Office

In addition to routine fire suppression forecasts, NWS Forecasters issue timely site-specific forecasts of weather elements possibly hazardous to crews on the fire line. Weather fronts can change wind speed and direction; dry thunderstorms can cause downbursts, erratic wind conditions and dangerous lightning that can cause additional fires. Wind, humidity and temperatures near fires have significant effect on fire intensity and firefighting tactics.

Operational fire management teams are briefed regularly to help plan where to place crews and strategy on how to fight specific fires. Forecasters draw upon various data sources such as computer-produced weather models, local weather observations, and satellite imagery. The local NWS office also provides specific meteorological support to any IMET deployed to a fire location in its area of responsibility.

At the fire

Nationwide, the NWS employs a small group of approximately 40 experienced Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) dispatched to remote locations to support wildfire operations. IMETs assist fire crew safety, provide tactical support to the fire management team and provide weather forecasts to the Fire Behavior Analyst. Special training in microscale forecasting, fire behavior, and fire operations makes these fire weather forecasters key members of fire management teams.


IMETs use special equipment to prepare critical information for wildfire suppression. The Advanced Technology Meteorological Unit (ATMU) is a 250-pound miniature mobile forecast station complete with communications equipment, satellite dish, laptop computer and observing equipment. The ATMU enables forecasters to provide close meteorological support to suppression efforts at fire command centers. Deployed rapidly, the IMET sets up the ATMU near the fire command center to provide forecast information to help managers decide where to deploy firefighting resources.

IMETs use laptop computers to access information from local NWS forecast offices. They can receive the latest information about surface and upper air observations, as well as Doppler weather radar and weather satellite data to make their specialized forecasts.

Every year, IMETS are deployed to support hundreds of fires nationwide. NWS Forecasters help on-scene fire management teams obtain and interpret weather information, train fire personnel on how weather may affect their operations during critical fire situations, and ensure the safety of fire fighters.


Additional information on the NWS fire weather program, as well as links to the latest 2-day fire weather forecasts from the Storm Prediction Center and local NWS offices are accessible through the fire weather home page at