Revised National Fire Danger Rating System approaches rollout

In this video Dr. Matt Jolly talks about his current project — the first revision of the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System in 40 years.

After I ran across the video above which mentions the revision of the National Fire Danger Rating System, it made me wonder about the status of the project.

The system tracks weather events through their effects on live and dead fuels and adjusts them accordingly based on forecasted weather. The most visible product, which is used by most large land management agencies in the United States, is the predicted fire danger, often expressed as adjectives ranging from Low to Extreme. (The system used in Australia has those five categories plus one more — “catastrophic” or “code red”.)fire danger rating

The NFDRS was first released for general use in 1972 and was revised in 1978 and 1988. Work on another revision began in 2000 and was last scheduled for completion in 2017. Reportedly this latest version is much simpler and more automated than its predecessors and represents a vast improvement in fire potential assessment capabilities.

Jon Wallace, a member of the team revising the system, said that in tests last year they discovered a flaw in the Nelson model which had been in use for several years that needed to be corrected. And, rounding methods and decimal points in Firefamily Plus and WIMS did not match.

National Fire Danger Rating System 2016

The team feels that all of the hidden issues and bugs have been squashed and rollout plans are being finalized. The U.S. Forest Service has released their plan, and Mr. Wallace will present one to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group the week of January 22.

Revisions to the National Fire Danger Rating System

fire dangerThe National Fire Danger Rating System tracks weather events through their effects on live and dead fuels and adjusts them accordingly based on forecasted weather. The most visible product of the system, which is used by most large land management agencies in the United States, is the predicted fire danger, often expressed as adjectives ranging from Low to Extreme.

The NFDRS was first released for general use in 1972 and was subsequently revised in 1978 and 1988. Work on another revision began in 2000 and is nearing completion. Reportedly this next version is much simpler and more automated than its predecessors and it represents a vast improvement in fire potential assessment capabilities.

Three major changes will be:

  • The Fosberg Dead Fuel Moisture Model will be replaced with the Nelson Dead Fuel Moisture Model.
  • The Burgan Live Fuel Moisture Model will be replaced with the Growing Season Index-based live fuel moistures.
  • The number of fuel models in the NFDRS will be reduced from 40 to 5.

Jon Wallace, a member of the team rolling out and implementing the new system described the transition in an email today:

“The system is expected to be back from contracting and thus complete on November 1st of 2016. After the first of the year we’re going to begin training of Subject Matter Expert groups located within each geographic area, and when that training is complete we will open the system up for all users.  We had to wait to conduct this training until the system was fully functional.

“As you can imagine, there is going to be a learning curve for the user community and these Subject Matter Expert groups are going to help us get through that curve within their respective geographic area.

“All members of the user community will be able to see the new NFDRS2016, as well as the 1978 and 1988 NFDRS models during the spring of 2017.  This will allow them to work with the subject matter expert groups to set up NFDRS parameters prior to the Summer of 2017 fire season.  They will then be able to compare the outputs of the new system to what they are used to seeing in the older versions of NFDRS.

“This side by side comparison will be available to users through the 2018 fire season, at which time we will re-evaluate the need to continue support of the old systems.”