San Diego weather network helps predict wildfires

By on October 7, 2010

California wildfires can be devastating to local communities — damaging property and threatening safety. Residents of areas frequented by these violent and deadly infernos know that a rise in temperature, drop in humidity, and arrival of destructive Santa Ana winds signals that a forest fire is likely.

Recognizing that weather is the driving force behind most wildfires, researchers and first responders in San Diego utilize a sophisticated network of weather monitoring stations to detect potential wildfire conditions.

The High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network, a National Science Foundation-funded project, provides the communication backbone for many of these weather stations. The network is being developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, led by Hans-Werner Braun.

The non-commercial, high-performance, wide-area, wireless network connects university campuses as well as a number of difficult to reach areas in remote environments. The weather network is formed using Internet routers on mountaintops, interconnected via wireless links. In addition to first responder activities, it is used for collaborative cyber infrastructure on research and education.

Fondriest Environmental has supplied Vaisala WXT520 multi-parameter weather sensors to provide real-time measurement data at the monitoring sites. Two new sensors will soon be added to this weather network. These solid-state sensors were initially chosen several years ago to replace cup and vane anemometers, which had suffered mechanical failures. The WXT520 was selected because it is a near-comprehensive and compact weather measurement device with direct digital output.

The weather data transmitted from remote locations allow officials to make decisions before a wildfire actually ignites. Additionally, the monitoring stations are equipped with video cameras that provide a live image feed.

If humidity drops below a certain pre-determined limit, and wind direction and speed meet certain parameters as well, real-time alerts are sent to appropriate parties. Mobilization of firefighting resources — from aircraft to fire crews — can then begin in response to the calculated fire risk.

Data from the weather network are used significantly by local agencies, and it is also forwarded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service. This real-time data is publicly available at http://hpwren.ucsd.edu/Sensors/

Image Credit: http://hpwren.ucsd.edu/news/20080927/

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