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SAN JOSE (KPIX) – Wildfires in Northern California this season have been destructive, but for fire meteorology researchers at San Jose State University, they have also been instructive.

Scientists have deployed advanced Doppler radar and lidar systems near
the front lines of fires to learn about fire behavior and predict how
the fires will spread.

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“It was a very busy time,” said the laboratory director and professor of meteorology
Craig Clements. “We’ve run a modeling system for the Dixie Fire and the Caldor Fire operationally, so twice a day we run those forecasts.”

Professor Clements told KPIX that the technology, co-developed by SJSU faculty, combines a high-resolution weather model with a fire forecasting system that accurately predicts aspects of the Caldor Fire’s spread. .

The models were sent to state fire management agencies to help them
plan the shootout on the ground.

“It fitted really well with a couple of those critical nights on the
Caldor Fire,” Clements said.

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The system has limits on how far ahead it can accurately predict.

But it can do something that ordinary weather forecasts can’t: take into account the winds created on the surface and in the plume by the fire itself, which often cause the most erratic behavior.

“We just don’t have a lot of sightings in those mountainous regions,” Clements explained. “It’s important to get these observations to understand this extreme fire behavior that we’ve been experiencing.”

Clements said the team is working on the next stage of fire forecasting: where spot fires will occur before the main fire.

“We’ll be able to predict where the firebrands or embers land,” Clements said.

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The team hopes to put this into their fire modeling to help fight fires later this fall or next season.