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Portable weather station provides valuable intel at Norseman fires
Tuesday 3 March 2020 – 12:00 PM

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ (DFES) Portable Automatic Weather Station (PAWS) capability has provided valuable insight into local weather conditions at its first bushfire incident during the Norseman complex fires in January 2020.  

PAWS can be quickly deployed by road or air to bushfires or burns and monitors the local weather conditions that can influence bushfire behaviour. 

Together with the Bureau of Meteorology’s existing automated weather stations, data relating to temperature, relative humidity, wind and rainfall can be swiftly accessed by emergency services on the ground. 

DFES Director Bushfire Technical Services Jackson Parker said it was great to see the station deliver valuable intelligence for incident managers and responders to better understand fire behaviour. 

“Having the PAWS in close proximity to an incident gives us a sound indication of local conditions as well as providing early warning of dynamic changes in weather conditions,” Mr Parker said. 

“This enhances the local Bureau of Meteorology forecast accuracy and our predictions of what a fire might do and how it could impact communities.”

Nine separate fires were ignited by a dry lightning storm across the Goldfields and Great Southern regions in December 2019. The PAWS was deployed to a fire located near the Balladonia Roadhouse, approximately 190 kilometres east of Norseman, on 3 January 2020 and was operational for two weeks. 

With the nearest weather stations located hundreds of kilometres away in Norseman and Eucla, Mr Parker said PAWS was able to observe rainfall and wind behaviour in the incident area to provide more accurate and locally relevant data.  

“It confirmed that there had been little or no rainfall from isolated thunderstorm activity in the area over a number of days, which indicated vegetation was still very dry and those conditions could still support significant fire runs and extreme fire behaviour,” Mr Parker said.

“Monitoring wind conditions also meant that any significant changes such as wind strength and direction could be observed, communicated and appropriate response strategies implemented until those conditions subsided.”

The deployment of PAWS to Balladonia was a joint effort between DFES, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and volunteers from Karnup and Baldivis Volunteer Fire & Emergency Services.

While the PAWS awaits its next deployment, DFES is currently exploring how to maximise this valuable information and make it readily available to fire practitioners including DBCA personnel and volunteers.