Cantwell, Sullivan Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Federal Weather Service Firefighting Tools

May 19, 2022

Fire Ready Nation Act of 2022 would codify NOAA’s role in forecasting, tracking and controlling wildfires


WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced bipartisan legislation to codify and strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) authority and capacity to help prevent, forecast and fight wildfires. The Fire Ready Nation Act of 2022 will establish a fire weather services program within NOAA, authorizing engagement in wildfire response activities and providing funding for science and technologies to forecast weather conditions that cause and spread wildfires.

“Washington state wildfires are growing more severe, burning hundreds of thousands of acres and threatening lives and property every year,” said Senator Cantwell. “With the 2022 fire season right around the corner, we need to maximize every tool available to prevent, track and fight wildfires. This bill will help our federal weather tracking agency -- NOAA -- deploy new technology that will boost computing power to improve wildfire forecasting and identify the impacts of changing weather conditions. It will test a new drone pilot program designed to gather critical fire information and survey post-fire damage – even at night – without endangering the lives of a pilot or crew members. And it will ensure NOAA has the resources to support our specially-trained forecasters serving alongside wildfire response teams.”

“As wildfires have repeatedly ravaged the West, we need to ensure that adequate tools are available to forecast, track, and respond to disasters,” Senator Sullivan said. “This bill supports and enhance the existing mission while filling unmet operational needs, increasing collaboration with international partners, and identifying needed improvements to our forecasting systems.”

NOAA is already a major player in wildfire preparedness and response. However, the agency has no defined statutory authority or mandate for its wildfire services and activities. And while NOAA is a world leader in wildfire forecasting, better coordination and funding for new high-tech initiatives would help improve forecasting.

Here’s how NOAA helps now:

  • NOAA’s climate data and fire season forecasts help federal and state organizations plan for wildfire season.
  • When potential fire conditions are at their worst, NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) offices issue Fire Watch Warnings or Red Flag Warnings to help everyone get ready.
  • When fires do happen, the NOAA deploys specially-trained forecasters called Incident Meteorologists (“IMETs”) to live and work on-site and help fire management teams determine where the fire might be going next. In 2021, the NWS supported 217 IMET deployments with 78 out of 91 IMETs deploying at least once.
  • NOAA’s existing testbed system was responsible for the 2020 launch of the High Resolution Rapid Refresh-Smoke model, which uses satellite observations and computer simulations to predict how smoke will move across the country and change air quality, visibility, temperature, and wind.

Here’s what S. 4237, The Fire Ready Nation Act of 2022, would do:

  • Establish a fire weather services program within NOAA, which would engage in wildfire response activities.
  • Fund the research and acquisition of science and technologies that forecast the weather conditions causing and spreading wildfires.
  • Create a Fire Weather Testbed that, following the model of existing NOAA testbeds, would develop, test, and deploy new technologies to address fire hazards, such as:
    • More computer processing power to improve wildfire forecasting models. With more computing power, NOAA can run more ensemble forecast systems that use multiple models and different initial conditions to better identify a possible range of fire outcomes. Incorporating more specific data would also provide more information about how fires change to due weather conditions, and how weather conditions are affected by fire.
    • A pilot program for Un-crewed Aerial Systems (UAS), a.k.a. drones. UAS can gather chemical information, fire radiation, atmospheric measurements in the boundary layer and near the fire, and survey for post-fire damage, without endangering the life of a pilot or crew members. UAS can also gather data cat night and can fly closer to fires than a crewed flight could.
    • Establish data management and data sharing standards for all NOAA data, and coordinate data collection across multiple federal agencies to improve and enhance fire weather data collection and sharing.
  • Codify the Incident Meteorologist Service, and address compensation limits on IMETs’ long deployments to help the specially-trained NWS forecasters who embed with fire teams for weeks at a time receive fairer compensation.