Dispatches…A Day in the LifeWhen onsite weather information is needed, the incident will put in an order for an Incident Meteorologist (IMET). This order is then typically placed with a local dispatch center, who calls the area Weather Forecast Office (WFO) to request an IMET. If that office can cover the dispatch, then they will send their IMET to the incident. If the WFO cannot cover the dispatch, the order is sent to the National Fire Weather Operations Coordinator, who locates an IMET for the job.
After IMETs get word that they are dispatched to a fire, they must prepare for the dispatch. Working with the Meteorologist in Charge of their WFO, they ensure that all their shifts are covered. Before arriving on the scene, the IMET gathers weather data for the incident area, as the IMET must be prepared to give a briefing upon arrival.
The IMET prepares his/her belongings and equipment for a dispatch that can last up to two weeks. Typically, the IMET will camp at the Incident Command Post, meaning that the IMET must bring a tent and other necessities to cover the two weeks in a remote area. The IMET will sometimes work the midnight shift when called out to a fire, so the staff at the WFO must ensure that the IMET’s shifts are covered. The office staff must change their schedules, shift times, or sometimes even their vacation times in order to ensure that the office is still able to issue all its products while the IMET is on assignment.
Getting to Work
Once the IMET arrives on scene, he/she checks in with the camp and reports to the Plans Section Chief. The IMET works with the Plans Section to determine how many briefings and forecasts are needed and when and how to broadcast emergency weather alerts to the incident. The IMET must also set up his/her camp and equipment and establish an observing network.
The IMET’s day typically begins around 5 a.m., which means the IMET is one of the first at the scene to get up in the morning. The IMET checks overnight weather observations and weather model data and ensures that his/her forecast is still on track and ready. The first briefing typically takes place around 6 a.m. The IMET briefs the Incident Command Staff and incident responders on what weather they can expect that day, highlighting any weather that may severely impact operations or safety.
After the morning briefing, the IMET begins to look at the morning model runs. If an incident is running a shift overnight, this is the time the IMET works on the evening forecast. Around 10 a.m., the Incident Command Staff holds a planning briefing for the next operational shift (if there is an evening shift). The IMET briefs staff on what weather they can expect for the next several days, so they can plan on how to best work the incident.
The IMET conducts a weather watch and begins to prepare the next day’s forecast. The next briefing, if there is an evening shift, is at around 6 p.m. At this briefing, the IMET informs staff and responders on what weather to expect overnight. At around 7 p.m., the IMET briefs the command staff on expected weather for the next several days at the evening planning briefing. After this briefing, the IMET must complete his/her forecast for the next day and update his/her logs for the day.
Throughout the day, the IMET keeps a close watch on the weather and will issue weather alerts if any sudden changes occur that could pose a danger to the incident. The IMET works with the spotter network on the incident. Command staff may ask the IMET for weather information at any time in order to develop plans on how they will work a particular spot of an incident. The IMET must set up coordination with the local WFO to ensure that all products are consistent and that both the WFO and the IMET are aware of any weather alerts issued by one another.
The IMET will often be interviewed by the local media and also may have to attend information meetings with the local community. Also, the IMET has to work in his/her meals and any personal things the IMET needs to attend to such as showers, etc. Finally, at around 11 p.m., the IMET goes to bed.
Working in a camp can be tough duty, with extreme temperature changes of around 60 degrees or more between night and day; dusty, dry conditions (or wet, muddy conditions if it is raining); and the inevitable “camp crud” (typically some strain of flu) that normally makes its way through a camp with close quarters and low-hygiene conditions. The stress level on these incidents is normally elevated as well. Responders are stressed about the incident, and the IMET is stressed about the weather safety of the responders. Also, multi-million dollar decisions may be made depending on what the IMET is forecasting. Another added stress is the fact that the IMET is in direct contact with his/her customers, which means the IMET gets instant feedback on how well he/she is doing, and it puts a personal face on the situation. One wrong forecast could very well mean that some of the people the IMET is briefing in the morning might not come back that night.
Once the incident is wrapped up, the IMET is released and travels to his/her home WFO. Once back at the WFO the IMET is typically given one night’s rest before being inserted back into the normal station schedule rotation. This can mean that an IMET can go for almost three weeks without a day off. Once back, the IMET must complete his/her paperwork and mail copies of reports, logs, and travel paperwork to various people. The IMET must repack equipment and ensure that any broken equipment is repaired.