Bay Area residents experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world due to particulate matter from the Camp Fire have found themselves inordinately interested in the concept of smoke: what’s in it, what it does, and, especially, where it’s going to be.
To that last point, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses a supercomputer to predict smoke dispersal over the U.S. It’s called the Rapid Refresh-Smoke model, and it’s run out of NOAA’s Global Systems Division in Boulder, Colorado. The forecasts take into account weather data gleaned from radar, airplanes and other sources to predict dispersion patterns over the next 36 hours; new forecasts are issued every six hours. The model is still designated experimental but is due to go operational in 2020, and it’s currently used by the National Weather Service to share information about air quality and visibility risks and to brief local emergency management offices, the Global Systems Division says.
To create the video above, vertically integrated smoke model fields from NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory were downloaded for November 5–18, 2018 and then composited into a video display.