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Weather Forecasting

Can meteorologists help fight wildfires?

Image of Lisa Kriederman at her computer.

Lisa Kriederman in her National Weather Service office.

Wild Weather Job: Incident Meteorologist

For three days, the Waldo Canyon Wildfire had been burning in the mountains surrounding Colorado Springs. But on June 26th, 2012, things got much worse. Weather conditions were disastrous. It was the hottest day in Colorado Springs history. Winds were raging. Thunderstorms were fast approaching. The fire was only going to get worse.

One of the individuals keeping an eye on these dangerous weather conditions was Lisa Kriederman. Lisa is an incident meteorologist with the National Weather Service. She uses her weather expertise to help firefighters, emergency planners, and residents stay as safe as possible during a wildfire. She helped emergency personnel make a tough call that day—thousands of people had to be evacuated. By the evening, the fire had reached parts of the city.

Photo of burning hills surrounding Colorado Springs, CO during the Waldo Canyon Fire.

The Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26th, 2012. Credit: Keystoneridin.

Always prepared

During big wildfires like the Waldo Canyon Fire, Lisa camps out with fire crews and keeps an eye on the weather conditions. She comes prepared. She has a laptop streaming up-to-date-information from GOES weather satellites. She carries instruments to measure wind, temperature, and humidity. And she uses a radio to communicate with fire fighters. If the wind is shifting or if a storm is approaching, she knows how this will affect the fire and she makes sure everyone is prepared.

Photo of equipment on an incident meterologist's desk.

Laptop with satellite data? Check. Bear spray? Check. Radio? Coffee? Check, check. Credit: NOAA.

“It's definitely one of the most stressful parts of my job,” she says, “but at the same time it is also the most rewarding.” Lisa gets sent to wildfires all around the country. About four or five times a year she puts her regular job as a National Weather Service forecaster on hold and travels to the front lines of wildfires. For her, it is a dream job. “I love the outdoors,” she says.

How did she get such a cool job?

Photo of equipment on an incident meterologist's desk.

An incident-meteorologist-in-training delivers a forecast to fire fighters. Credit: NOAA.

A passion for weather and the outdoors helped. Her interest in weather started at an early age. Growing up in Colorado and watching the dramatic mountain weather played a big role. In college she studied atmospheric science. To become a weather forecaster you also need to know a lot about physics and math, she says.

After using her college degree to get a job at the National Weather Service, she received special training to become an incident meteorologist. She took classes on predicting weather for small regions and on fire behavior. She also received basic survival classes and learned how to use a fire shelter.

Lisa is one of over 90 incident meteorologists in the country—ready to deploy to a wildfire or other natural disaster on a moment's notice. “It’s a very exciting and rewarding job,” she says. “We do it because we want to do it.”