Red Flag Warnings for September 10

Red Flag Warnings, September 10, 2012

The map shows Red Flag Warnings in effect for today.

I wonder if the weather forecasters at the National Weather Service realize that when their map shows weather patterns adhering to state boundaries it reduces the credibility of their product. This map brings up some questions… are there really no warnings for Utah, Colorado or western North Dakota? Or, are there really warnings for all of Wyoming and South Dakota? Which portions of the map are accurate?

UPDATE at 9 a.m. September 11, 2012:

I asked Darren R. Clabo, the South Dakota State Fire Meteorologist, for his insight about this issue, and he was kind enough to provide the following:

…It really has to do with the NWS Local Forecast Area boundaries and the boundaries of the individual GACCs.

Here is the link that shows the local NWS office coverage areas as the NWS issues the Red Flag Warning (RFW). Each individual office has the responsibility to issue RFWs for their forecast area. These areas encompass distinct counties, some of which have common borders with other states. Each NWS forecast office does talk to neighboring offices to try to make their forecasts ‘mesh’ but often times, one office will issue a warning while another will not; it all depends on forecaster confidence in the particular weather situation.

It can even get more confusing: The GACCs, in concert with the NWS, determine the criteria for a RFW for their region (due to the different climates within the GACCs). For example, the Rocky Mountain GACC has specific RFW criteria, while the Northern Rockies GACC has a slightly different RFW criteria. If we look at western SD, Harding County typically sees more RFWs than the rest of West River. This is because Harding County is in the Northern Rockies GACC while the rest of SD is in the Rocky Mountain GACC. Furthermore, the GACC boundaries do not correspond to the NWS local office boundaries which contribute to the confusion as well.

Geographic “boundaries” in meteorology always present large hurdles in terms of communicating a forecast, especially when it comes to forecast areas. The zero-order boundaries for RFWs on the map do look goofy but I am not sure how else they could go about it.

Hope this helps-

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

7 thoughts on “Red Flag Warnings for September 10”

  1. Got a fire near Ukiah, Oregon -news says 300 homes are
    threatened -that’ d be the whole town, heavy smoke in the area..

    1. And what I mean by that…. Is that no firefighter is going to put any (ANY) faith into any forecast… pssst… I know they think we do…. I know they want us to….. Their pocket protectors are a tool… That’s it…

    2. This map brings up some questions… are there really no warnings for Utah, Colorado or western North Dakota? Or, are there really warnings for all of Wyoming and South Dakota? Which portions of the map are accurate?

      A better map addresses the issues brought up. The better map shows warnings for Utah, Colorado and North Dakota.

      On Monday I looked at actual’s for NE WYO, ND, SD, Eastern MT, Western MN and Iowa and they were hitting their Red Flag marks. Don’t know about others.

      1. Midwest: I’m thinking that the two maps were produced at different times, showing different updates from the NWS. These maps are the result of input from dozens of NWS offices, which at various times submit warning data while other warnings are expiring.

  2. Another factor that comes in to play is that different NWS offices – hopefully (at least the ones I’ve worked with) in conjunction with their fire and land management agencies and predictive services offices, use different criteria for establishing warning thresholds. Even within my state, we have differing wind and RH thresholds from one end of the state to another, based on what is “normal” for those areas and what is truly extreme conditions for that locality. This may result in areas just across boundaries, with the same conditions, meeting regional criteria for warnings on one side of the line but not the other.

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