Fire Weather

Spot Forecast


Blacksburg, Virginia

Request Procedures

Spot weather or site specific forecasts may be obtained by Fire Control Agencies upon request to the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia. Spot forecasts for wildfires and other emergency situations (i.e. affecting life or property) are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week, and can be provided to any federal, state or local agency.

Spot forecasts for prescribed burns are also available at any time, however only for federal agencies.   State or local agencies may obtain spot forecasts if there is some federal involvement (i.e. equipment, personnel, or an interagency protection agreement.)

The preferred medium for requesting a spot forecast is the National Weather Service's web based form: Spot Request. You may continue to make requests via telephone or fax if you want to speak with a forecaster or the Internet is not available.  Regardless of the method you choose, response time may vary depending on higher priority duties of the forecaster on duty.  The average turn around time is 45 minutes from the time you submit your request.  


When You Select Spot Request From the Internet 

The Blacksburg, Virginia SPOT FORECASTS page will appear. This is also called the monitoring page. This page auto-updates every minute, so as new spot forecasts are requested or their status changes, you immediately see the changes on the page!

Some of the features on this page include...

A) The current date with arrow keys allowing you to step back or forward to a particular date. A calendar is also available, which will allow you to see how many spot forecasts were issued on a certain date. You can also move ahead or back on the calendar as well as clicking on a particular date to view information from that day.

B) A map of the NWS RNK fire weather area of responsibility. A small box will appear indicating the location of the spot request. It is colored coded to indicate if the spot forecast is pending (green), which means the user has submitted the request and the NWS is working on the forecast. A purple box indicates the NWS has sent the user a question with respect to the spot forecast. (The user would need to either click on the purple box or click on QUESTION in the Status Box below the map, then on the bottom of the next page, they would click on Change Request to make the necessary changes and answer our question. When they submit the spot again, we will get an alarm on AWIPS (WBCSTQRNK) saying the spot request has been modified for that. The monitor page will show the word ANSWERED in the Status Box and the purple square on the map will go back to green. A red box on the map means the spot forecast is complete and the user can either click on the red box or in the Name/Ignition Time/Status Box to see the forecast.

C) A link exists to take you back to the Blacksburg Fire Weather Internet Page.

You must click on SUBMIT A NEW SPOT REQUEST to prepare  information for the online spot forecast request.



When You Submit A New Spot Request Using the Online Form


*** It is important to note that the elements colored in red are required fields! ***

Let's look at the information fields on this page...

1 - Project Name: typically fires in the Western US have names with respect to the river drainage basin they are in. If your fire has a name, go ahead and put it in. Otherwise, lets say the fire is 2 miles north of Warm Springs, Virginia, go ahead and enter in 2N of Warm Springs, VA. Or if the fire is on a mountain, you could put in the name of the mountain. Essentially put in something that you will be able to reference on the Spot Request Page because this is a required field.

* select the type of project (either a wildfire or a prescribed burn. Do not worry about what WFU is). If it is a prescribed burn, please enter in the Ignition Time (using the 24 hour clock) and Date. The form defaults to an ignition time about ½ hour into the future. If it is a wildfire, you do not have to worry about the default ignition time.

2 - Requesting Agency: The Requesting Agency name and phone number are required. Fax number and contact person are optional, but we consider those very important if we have any questions or if there is a breakdown in dissemination capabilities. You will only need to enter your agency name, phone/fax numbers, and your name the first time you request a spot forecast. After that, it will be filled in with the same information as your last request. Please note that no other people other than the user and the NWS will see this information!

3 - Location: You have a couple of options on this one, but they are important with respect to having the location appear on the map. Proper location data will give us detailed map information for the fire and the terrain in the area.

* Enter the Latitude and Longitude of the fire (you can either specify degrees like 45.1486 or degrees/minutes/seconds like 45 13 34). For supplemental information you can reference the 7.5' USGS Quadmap, but you still need to provide the Lat/Lon. 

As of 4/8/02, the Legal Township/Range (T/R) section is mainly for locations in the western United States, so inputting Lat/Lon information is the required method. The National Weather Service will be looking into this function for all areas in the country.

4 - Elevation: The top and bottom elevations of the fire are required. You can just enter the numbers and do not need to mention the word feet. If the burn or fire is on flat ground, you can enter a value in only one of the boxes.

* Drainage is optional and once again references the stream drainage basin the fire is in. If you know it, you can enter it. For example if the fire is on the north slope of Bald Mountain (near New Castle, Virginia), you could enter Barbours Creek, for the name of the basin. Note that you will be flagged when submitting the request that if possible, we would like the drainage information. If you do not know it, go ahead and just submit the request anyway.

5 - Aspect: This field is required and important to know which side of a mountain the fire may be on. Use direction references such as N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW. If the fire or burn is in flat terrain, you can type in the word FLAT.

6 - Size: Enter the acreage if known, but it is an optional field.

7 - Fuel: Please indicate the type of fuel, either using fuel model numbers, or a description of the fuel such as grass, ponderosa pine, etc. Also, if you can indicate the amount of fuel sheltering, it helps us tremendously in providing accurate wind forecasts.

8 - Observations: Although it is considered optional in the program, it is required to get a spot forecast from the NWS. Please enter in the information with respect to the observation. For each observation we need to know where it is in relation to the burn, the elevation in feet, and the time (preferably using a 24 hour clock). The wind (in mph, and assumed to be eye level unless otherwise stated) can be specified as N12 Gust 25 or something like that. The temperature and wetbulb values (in degrees F) should be entered and the RH (in percent) and Dewpoint (in degrees F) can also be entered if known, otherwise they will be calculated for you. Finally, any remarks about clouds, weather, or other important information should be entered in the final box.

9 - Primary Forecast Elements: Not all spot forecasts are created equal, so we are asking you to tell us what are the forecast elements you need, or are particularly important. There are six parameters listed for you. Select which ones you want a forecast for, and for the time period(s) you would like as well (available times are Today, Tonight, and Tomorrow).

10 - Remarks: If a meteorological parameter is not listed and you would like to have Haines Index or Eye Level Wind for example, enter that information in the Remarks section. You can also enter in information with respect to when you might want the forecast or any other information/input you can give to us with respect to the spot forecast request.

11 - Action: You now have three options. You can Submit Request, Cancel Request, or Clear Form. When you hit Submit Request, various checks are performed on the data you have entered. Some problems make it impossible for your request to be accepted (for example, if you forget to enter a name for the burn), while others will produce warnings and messages for your information. If an error is found, you will be taken to a page that describes the errors or minor problems. You can click on Go Back and Fix and have the opportunity to make the necessary changes. You can click on Submit Request anyway, but more than likely we will probably be sending back a question or calling. You do have one more option and that is to Cancel Request.

* After you have submitted a spot forecast request, an individualized spot forecast web page becomes available for that burn. The page automatically updates every minute so that as new information becomes available for the burn, you see it immediately. Detailed maps of the area around the burn are generated and displayed when they become available.

* Once the forecast is COMPLETED and made available to you, the page will not update anymore. Thus if we have to update the forecast, we would be calling you to inform you of the upcoming change, since the page no longer updates or has a way to inform you that a change has been sent. When you go back into the forecast, the only way you might pick up on the changed forecast is at the top of the page it shows the time that the spot was requested and the time it was issued. The issue time will have changed. Keep in mind that "sensitive" information like your name, phone number, and the exact location of the burn are NOT visible to others - only to you and the NWS.

* If we have questions about your request, we may send you back a question about it. If this happens, the Status Box will show the word QUESTION and the box on the map will turn purple. Click on this and you will see a big red box in the forecast page with our question. Usually there is some problem with the request that you can probably fix (use the CHANGE REQUEST link to do this, make your changes if necessary, then submit the request once again. The purple box will return to green and the word QUESTION will change back to PENDING) or you can call us.

* When your forecast is complete, it will show up in the spot forecast web page (clicking on the red box in the map or COMPLETED in the Status Box can access the spot). On the forecast page a Feedback box will appear where you can provide us on information with respect to how the forecast worked out, perhaps later in the day or several days down the road. This feedback helps us to improve. Simply type in your feedback into the box and click on Send Feedback.

* At the bottom of the forecast page are links for actions that you can take. For example, you can go "Back to Spot List" to return to the monitor page. If you are on the same computer where you made the original request, you can click on "Change Request" to change the details of your request. This is what you would do if we send you a question and you need to change some information. If you need to delete a request, simply click on "Delete Request".

* You can also click on "Copy Info to New Spot Request". This is helpful for burns that last over several days. Rather than having to re-enter the data in the form to get a new forecast, you can view the previous spot request and then copy all the location parameters to a new request using this link. This will save you some time when filling out the request form.

* Invariably, something will go wrong at some point, and you might not be able to request or receive spot requests via the web page. In such cases, you can call in or fax us the spot forecast.


Information Needed For Phone or Fax Requests

On site weather observations are necessary for issuance of a spot weather forecast.  Minimum requirements for a weather observation include the dry bulb temperature, the relative humidity, and the surface or 20 foot wind speed and direction.

If those elements are unavailable, and the forecaster feels that will negatively impact the forecast, he/she may decline to fulfill a formal spot forecast request.

All wind measurements are assumed to be at eye level using a hand held wind instrument. If wind measurements are taken from a tower, this should be noted and relayed to the forecaster. Please use the Spot Forecast Request Form as guidance for information to supply to the fire weather forecaster.

For very large fires (involving thousands of acres), observations should be obtained, if possible from several points around the fire. This will enable the forecaster to better gauge the effects of the fire on local weather patterns.

For prescribed burns, a weather observation from the site should be taken and sent to the forecaster about two hours before ignition. Location of the fire site must also be included with the spot forecast. Latitude and longitude along with a nearby major feature (topographic, town, etc.) is best.

The fire weather user requesting the spot forecast should also provide the following information:  Name of burn, Location, Size of burn, Elevation, and Fuel (vegetation ) type (e.g. is it a stand of dense pines or perhaps a grassy field?)

Please state what weather elements are desired and most important to the burn.  Also provide a time window for when you wish to burn so the forecaster can provide a spot forecast tailored to your needs.  The first 12 hours of the burn time should have the most detail in it.

Remember to provide a phone number or fax number in order for the spot forecast information to reach the proper location.



Quality Control

If weather conditions develop that were not forecasted and threaten the success of the operations at the fire, the forecaster should be notified immediately. Furthermore, any feedback concerning the accuracy of the spot weather forecast (both positive and negative) will assist the forecaster in subsequent forecasts for the same or similar location.