Published on June 6th, 2019
As the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to start thinking about your preparations for wildfires. Every year, these extreme weather events strike more often and more fiercely. Even if you haven’t been affected before, if your home is in an at-risk area, you need to have a contingency plan in place.
You also want to have as much information about oncoming weather and fire events as possible. Ideally, you will know well in advance before your home is ever at risk. Mainstream media is not great for this – they’re often precious minutes and even hours behind.
Social media is better, with Twitter being a good source of information. Some people invest in an emergency weather radio, which broadcast alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the moment they are released.
But if you want to have the most local, specific and up to date information, you should really consider a personal weather station.
1. What Is A Personal Weather Station?
If you already regularly check the weather online, you’ll know that it doesn’t always reflect the reality of your location. Your nearest official weather stations is probably several miles from your home. Moreover, it could be in an area with a completely different layout, geography or altitude to yours. Those few miles don’t sound like much, but they can profoundly affect the weather readout.
A personal weather station gets around this by putting the measuring device directly in your backyard (or on your roof). Your own station allows you to know basic things like the temperature and humidity. But you can go beyond that and know the wind speed, wind direction and barometric pressure.
Best of all, with the right system, you can get the information directly to your laptop or phone. You can set up alerts to let you know when certain thresholds are reached, for example, when the temperature changes suddenly or there’s a change in wind direction.
2. How To Read Your Personal Weather Station
If you splash out on all the bells and whistles, your personal weather station will give you more information than you know what to do with! Don’t panic. There are only a few things you really need to know in the case of predicting fire events.
Obviously, the hotter it is the more likely there is to be a wildfire. Temperature is one of the so-called pillars of the fire triangle – heat, fuel and oxygen.
Additionally, once a wildfire has started, it changes the weather around it, creating its own weather system. A one metre high fire can reach temperatures of 800°C (1,472° F), dramatically affecting the ambient temperature for miles around which your station will pick up on.
Generally, watch out for long periods of hot and dry weather. This helps to create dry materials which provide fodder for fire – the fuel in the triangle – and can mean a greater risk of fire. During these periods, look out for sudden spikes in temperature.
4. Rainfall And Soil Moisture
If you know that wildfires have already started in your region, check your rainfall over the past few days. This won’t necessarily tell you if wildfires are heading your way, but can indicate your risk level. For example, if you’ve had plenty of rain over the past few weeks, then you’re less likely to have dry brush and other potentially flammable materials close to your home.
If your device measures soil moisture, this is also an excellent indicator. Wildfires are more common and more intense when soil moisture is very low.
5. Wind Speed And Direction
Wind provides the third pillar in the triangle – oxygen. Again, if wildfires have already begun, it is possible to make predictions about what course they’ll take by looking at wind direction and speed. Fires tend to follow the wind, so by looking at a map of current fires, you can track whether or not your home is in its path.
Fires are at their most destructive when wind speeds are high. The faster the wind, the faster the fire will spread. Sudden changes in direction or speed (wind gusts) can push fires into new directions or up into tree canopies or onto rooftops.
6. Your Personal Weather Station
Once you’ve researched and purchased your personal weather station, research carefully where to position it. For best results, don’t put your station in direct sunlight. This will obviously affect your temperature readings. You’ll also need to give it a bit of elevation to measure wind speeds above the ground.
Finally, join a web community like Weather Underground where thousands of other weather enthusiasts share their data and advice. Joining a network like this means you’re not only relying on your own weather station, but the data and expertise of other people in your area. The more everyone cooperates in sharing weather data, the better able everyone is to predict and fight wildfires.