Should the State of Colorado Fund Fire Modeling Research?

Apparently NCAR (Boulder, CO) folks visited the Denver Post editorial board, who produced this editorial last Sunday.

Colorado has been ravaged by large and unpredictable wildfires and floods in recent years that have left death and destruction in their wake.

If we could rewind time and know 12 hours in advance what some of these monsters were going to do, could some of that damage have been prevented? Could lives have been saved?

The answer is undoubedly yes. And that is why forecasting tools developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder are so exciting. They can make such predictions with surprising accuracy, based upon numerous tests retracing actual events. Now, a bill in the legislature would spend $10 million over five years to put these systems to work in Colorado.

It’s important to know that these systems aren’t theoretical.

Scientists have been working on them for decades and the National Science Foundation and other funders have invested more than $20 million in research time and dollars to create the technology.

The Colorado contribution would finish the job and create tools tailored to the unique topography and weather of the state.

The fire modeling system marries newly available satellite imagery with detailed weather data to predict important characteristics of a wildfire and how it will likely move and change in the coming hours. It even considers the available fuel and the hydration status of vegetation.

The money that the sponsor, Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, is looking for in House Bill 1129 would bring this tool from the demonstration phase to a point where it can be used by firefighters while a fire is unfolding.

The same goes for the flood prediction tool, which uses many of the same types of data to forecast where flooding will occur and how severe it will be.

The price tag for disasters in recent years in Colorado has been huge — in the billions of dollars.

These tools have the potential to reduce costs and suffering at a relatively modest price.

I wonder why NSF couldn’t bring this project home after investing $20 million, or why JFSP or other funders wouldn’t want to do this beyond Colorado. If it’s useful it seems like it should be applied more broadly than Colorado (and maybe the $10 mill would go farther).

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