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How tracking lightning can make a difference during fire season

It's a team effort throughout the state.

Posted: Jul 13, 2019 11:57 PM
Updated: Jul 13, 2019 11:58 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. --  The Rogue Valley was impacted by a lightning storm on July 15 last year. Hundreds of fires started and took several weeks to contain, filling the valley with smoke. This year officials are working to get ahead of the lightning and prevent a repeat of last year's summer.

StormWatch 12 Chief Meterologist, Matt Hoffman, said, "We've had our fair share of thunderstorms, but nothing that's been super intense, nothing like last year. That July 15 thunderstorm event was pretty historic."

Stormwatch 12 meteorologists track storms and lightning through forecast models, radars and weather cams. To prevent fires, our chief meteorologist says it's a team effort throughout the state.

"These wildfires have such a big impact on our area. Between us and the National Weather Service and fire crews were all kind of keeping our eye out," Hoffman said. 

Since last Fall, the National Weather Service added three new radar angles at the top of Mt. Ashland. They're using these lower angles to better predict thunderstorms, in hopes of spotting lightning quicker.

Brad Schaaf, National Weather Service official, said, "Our goal here for staff 24 hours a day in order to protect peoples' lives and their property and this is the new emerging technology that can help us do that."

They monitor the clouds to determine if they will have lightning. When radars start turning green, Schaaf said that's how he will know there will be lightning in the next 15 minutes.

"We can give firefighters and anyone who needs it ample time to get to safety," Schaaf. 

ODF officials monitor cameras for smoke throughout the state helping responders get to fires as quick as possible.

Dennis Lee, ODF official,  said, "We respond to them as soon as we get the call and we like to be there in less than an hour."

Lee used this system on June 10th, when 12 fires started in a 48 hour windo, all from lightning, but since they noticed the fires immediately, they were able to keep them all under an acre.

Together, they are all working to prevent fires and keep them from spreading.

"Our big job here and months ahead for the rest of fire season is tracking those lightning strikes and thunderstorms. Fortunately, we have a lot of great tools here," Hoffman said. 

One of the big tools StormWatch 12 weather department uses is the Goes-17 satellite. Hoffman said this new satellite only came online in the last couple years. The images from this satellite are much sharper and have a higher resolutation. Meterologists are able to spot smoke from wildfires much better with this new technology. For example, our own StormWatch 12 meterologist Caitlin Harvey was the first to spot smoke from the basin that ended up being the Walnut Creek Fire.

Stay with StormWatch 12 throughout fire season for the latest on fire weather conditions, air quality, and thunderstorm forecasts.

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