Tracking Oklahoma's wildfire danger

Wednesday, February 1st 2006, 10:23 am
By: News On 6

This season's wildfires have been some of the worst in Oklahoma history, and this month's fires have set new all-time records.

News on 6 meteorologist Dick Faurot went to Stillwater to find out how scientists calculate the fire danger, and what they're seeing that's making history.

Without it, fire meteorologist Doctor JD Carlson would have his head in the clouds. Instead, the Oklahoma Mesonet provides him with up-to-the-minute weather information from across the state. “The further down you get, that's the level that has the most moisture across the state. As you get closer to the surface, there's less and less moisture."

There are 100 Mesonet sites across Oklahoma. There's at least one in every county. They contain a rain gauge, instruments that measure temperature and humidity, wind and solar radiation, not only on the ground but on top of a 30 foot tower. It's very efficient at determining the weather.

They are used extensively at Channel 6, but it's also important in the Oklahoma Fire Danger Model. Dr JD Carlson, "So look, 1 AM, 2 AM in the morning, the map is still lit up with high fire danger, even to 6 in the morning."

The Mesonet data for January was off the charts. Sensors recorded the highest burning index ever this month. The index of 183 means flames extended more than 18 feet from the leading edge of a fire.

Right now, the Mesonet can only provide past and present data, but a federal grant will help Doctor Carlson build one of the first statewide fire forecasting models in the country.

Doctor Carlson says he doesn't think any of the state's Mesonet stations have been damaged so far in this season's fires.