High winds that kicked up during three separate periods within a week propelled the spread of the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. The wind gusted, the fire raged and the smoke billowed over the Pacific Ocean. Then the wind died down, the fire smoldered and the smoke settled across Northern California. Rinse and repeat. Meteorologists say it’s incredibly rare to have three high-wind events within such a short period of time.
All the while, residents of Northern California found themselves, once again, reaching for smoke-filtering masks and searching the web for clues as to when and where the smoke would arrive.
One place that information is available is at the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which 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. Forecasts pull weather data gleaned from radar, airplanes and other sources to predict dispersal patterns over 36 hours. New forecasts are issued every six hours. While still designated as experimental, the model is slated to go operational in 2020, and it’s currently used by the National Weather Service to share information about air quality and visibility, 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 the start of the Kincade Fire on Oct. 23 to Nov. 1.