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Meet the incident meteorologist helping keep fire crews safe at the French Fire

Posted at 6:40 AM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 09:40:18-04

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — Every day, National Weather Service Meteorologist Rob Rickey says he wakes up, and from then on his eyes are glued to weather monitors. He says he needs to keep his eyes on the skies in order to keep crews safe on the ground.

“You know, firefighters are often fighting fires with their tools like Polanski shovels, and I like to think I fight the fire with computer monitors, computer models, and weather observing equipment," Rickey said.

Rickey is an incident meteorologist for the National Weather Service. He’s worked as a meteorologist for 15 years, the last five as an IMET.

“So right out of high school I joined the Air Force and I started doing meteorology,” he said.

Rickey is currently stationed at the French Fire in Lake Isabella. His role as an incident meteorologist is to monitor weather changes and present forecasts to fire crews and fire behavior analysts — so they can determine a plan of action.

“At times in the morning you may have a light wind and by the afternoon you may have very very strong winds, and of course that has a significant impact on how quickly the fire’s going to spread,” said Rickey.

With his forecasts — the fire behavioralist is able to determine what factors are going to impact how the fire will move or change throughout the days.

“Humidity recovery tells us how high the humidity gets at night time. When humidities are high, your fire activity tends to decrease, but one this fire we’ve seen very low humidities at night time and so we’ve seen active burning through the overnight hours,” he said.

Rickey is constantly checking for updates throughout the day, using weather models, weather observations and satellite imaging.

“Right now I’m going through time and I’m looking to see when are the wind speeds going to pick up and from what direction they are going to blow from,” Rickey said. “Closer to the town of Wofford, temperatures are actually quite a bit warmer, it’s a lower elevation area and right now it looks like the temperatures are in the mid-80s and a humidity of 19 percent so very very dry there,”

In his five years as an IMET, Rob has worked on 20 different fires across 8 states.

“When the forecast works out I tend to feel really really good, when it doesn’t work out as well as I wanted it to sometimes I don’t feel quite as good but at the same time, I know that what I do is important,” said Rickey.

If you’d like to learn more about Rob’s role as a meteorologist, tune in this weekend for Science Sunday with Elaina Rusk for a special experiment with Rob where he shows us how a helium balloon helps him predict weather changes.