Special meteorologists help fight wildfires - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports


Special meteorologists help fight wildfires

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Jon Pelton is the only Incident Meteorologist, or IMET, working in the Channel 3 viewing area. He's stationed near the the wildfire in the Cohutta Wilderness.

"We're there to help provide safety not only for the firefighters, but the general public as well," says Pelton.

He's a veteran IMET, specially trained beyond his normal duties as a national weather service forecaster. When unusual situations develop like the long-lasting wildfires across our region, Pelton is one of only 30 IMETs across the U.S. ready to respond at the drop of a hat.

"We could basically get a call today that they want us somewhere tomorrow. So we either fly or drive there," explains Pelton. "Sometimes we're in fire camps and we're actually camping in a tent with the other crews that are camping in a tent."

He could end up anywhere in the country, even Hawaii or Alaska.

It's not glamorous. Work often starts before dawn and assignments usually keep IMETS away from home for a while. But these specialists are vital to firefighting efforts.

"Of course we're keeping a weather watch all the time of current conditions, what's going on observation-wise," says Pelton. "Satellite and radar. Interacting with other weather service offices and the IMETS that might be at other fires nearby."

Localized observations and forecasts are crucial, especially in remote mountainous areas. This would be nearly impossible without IMETS launching weather balloons and setting up remote instruments.

"If there was a wind shift moving in, thunderstorms moving in we would put together a message, an alert type message, that would go through communications out to the firefighters on the lines," adds Pelton.

He goes home to Kentucky at the end of the week, but says the fires will be here for a while..

"It's probably not the end of the season just yet," says Pelton. 

He adds that a slow, steady rain of about 2" or so would probably extinguish the north Georgia fires, but they would still have to monitored for smoldering.

The good news is that the fire is under control enough that Pelton shouldn't have to be replaced by another IMET.

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