“Everything related to fighting forest fires is weather driven – preparation and protection as well as positioning of resources,” said Olivier Lundqvist, SOPFEU Director of Development & Specialized Services.
Before deploying Surfer, the hourly weather maps produced by SOPFEU reflected meteorological conditions across Quebec based on point-source reports of temperature, wind speed/direction, humidity and precipitation without interpolation. If, for example, one of the province’s 194 weather stations reported a temperature of 24° C, the entire area around that point, defined by an arbitrary polygon, was assigned the same temperature.
“The way we were displaying weather information had little scientific value,” said Lundqvist, noting there is an average distance of 80 kilometers between stations, and conditions vary considerably.
Working with Surfer analytics tools, SOPFEU’s weather office staff wrote algorithms to interpolate weather conditions between stations on 1.2-kilometer grids, much smaller than the massive polygons once used. The interpolations take into account weather reports at each station and those around it and then factor in meteorological influencers, such as elevation changes and distance from water bodies.
The result is a province-wide map representing realistic weather conditions on a very fine scale and generated automatically every hour. In addition, SOPFEU has written numerous scripts in the Surfer Scripter tool to produce color-coded thematic maps showing temperatures, precipitation or wind speeds. Staff meteorologists often use Surfer graphics functions to draw in weather fronts and high-pressure ridges, which indicate coming changes in conditions.
“They let fire fighters know when a front will pass or the winds will shift,” said Lundqvist.