The technique, devised by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Maryland, combines cutting-edge simulations portraying the interaction of weather and fire behavior with newly available satellite observations of active wildfires.
If updated with new observations every 12 hours, the computer model can predict critical details such as the extent of the blaze and changes in its behavior, an NCAR release reported Thursday.
"With this technique, we believe it's possible to continually issue good forecasts throughout a fire's lifetime, even if it burns for weeks or months," NCAR scientist Janice Coen, the lead model developer, said.
While current technologies can estimate the speed of the leading edge a fire, they are too simple to capture crucial effects caused by the interaction of fire and weather, the scientists said.
"This model, which combines interactive weather prediction and wildfire behavior, could greatly improve forecasting -- particularly for large, intense wildfire events where the current prediction tools are weakest," Coen said.
Crucial to the new model, the scientists said, is higher-resolution fire detection data available from a new satellite instrument, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, launched in 2011 and jointly operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.