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Local meteorologist assisting with fire weather forecasting in California

Listen to the full interview on the Weather Wise Guy Podcast
Phil Manuel a meteorologist in Blacksburg will be on the front line of fighting the California fires.
Phil Manuel a meteorologist in Blacksburg will be on the front line of fighting the California fires.(WDBJ)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:40 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - So far this year, nearly 2 million acres of land have burned in more than 7,300 fires in California. The wildfires continue to burn across the state with photos and videos coming in of red skies and poor air quality.

Fires can often get so large and so hot that they can create their own weather, including firestorms, fire tornadoes, and other pyrocumulonimbus clouds. When it comes to fighting the massive fires, every bit of weather information helps. This is where IMETs, or Incident Meteorologists, come in.

Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) are government meteorologists who help keep the fire crews safe by enabling first responders to plan operations by taking into account one of the most variable aspects of the incident — the weather. IMETs are National Weather Service forecasters who have been specially trained and certified to provide weather support at a fire location.

There are more than one hundred of these specially trained meteorologists around the country and one of those just happens to be based at the National Weather Service office in Blacksburg.

Phil Manuel is a senior meteorologist at the NWS Blacksburg office. During his “normal” shift, Manuel is creating forecasts, sending out warnings, and providing support for local emergency managers. However, while on his assignment as an Incident Meteorologist at the Woodward Fire in California, he will be forecasting weather for a very specific location along the Point Reyes National Seashore where the fire is located.

Phil Hysell, also a meteorologist in the Blacksburg office, talked with WDBJ7 about Manuel’s assignment.

“There are very specific weather patterns along the coast of California that he will have to learn in a short amount of time,” says Hysell. He will be sleeping in a tent and often working 10-14 hour days briefing the firefighters on the changing weather patterns.

The assignments typically last several weeks and then it’s back to the office in Blacksburg to focus on local weather. Hysell says with the increase in fires in recent years, Incident Meteorologists have been in high demand.

Listen to the full interview with meteorologist Phil Hysell on the Weather Wise Guy Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

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