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High Cascades Complex

Unit Information

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
3040 Biddle Rd.
Medford, OR 97504

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Weather Balloons Help Predict Conditions on Wildland Fires

High Cascades Complex Wildfire
News – 8/15/2017


It was a calm, sunny morning at the Incident Command Post for the High Cascades Complex, south of Crater Lake National Park. But Incident Meteorologists Scott Carpenter and Julia Ruthford take nothing for granted when it comes to how weather might impact firefighters throughout the day. An unexpected change in the weather has been responsible for too many firefighter deaths over the years. Today, Scott and Julia suspect a layer of dry, midlevel air might drop to the surface in the afternoon: information fire managers need to know as soon as possible, so they can plan where their troops on the ground can work safely.

Scott and Julia launched a helium-filled weather balloon trailing an instrument package that will rise to 45,000 or 50,000 feet in just one hour, measuring temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure and readings that allow them to calculate wind speed, as it rises through layer after layer of the atmosphere. Those readings, taken where fires burn in remote regions, provide invaluable information about current and upcoming weather conditions. These conditions affect not only firefighters on the ground but also aerial resources such as helicopters, air attack planes, and fixed wing tankers. Forewarned is forearmed, and weather scientists are an important part of the team when it comes to putting life first when battling wildland fires.