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The Denver metro region is already home to a large concentration of atmospheric scientists, including National Weather Service forecasters. We’ll see even more weather wonks when two conferences draw them here this month. When they’re not discussing topics that go over our heads, the NWS meteorologists provide intel that helps prevent major problems. Here’s how.
Coors Field is a StormReady site, which means its staffers receive warnings directly from the NWS about extreme weather events. They can then quickly decide if they need to move spectators inside or consider whether to delay or cancel games. For bigger events like the Winter X Games, the NWS can produce “spot forecasts”: predictions that can be dialed down to two and a half kilometers. The Grand Junction office of the NWS sent three meteorologists to Aspen one day during this past January’s event to provide on-demand spot forecasts for snow or wind that could impact the venues.
The NWS can provide forecasts for wind speed and direction whenever there’s a prescribed burn (like the one in March near Red Feather Lakes) or a big wildfire. They give daily briefs in the case of the former and on-the-ground, real-time updates for the latter. The info is used by fire managers to figure out where to position tankers, hoses, and ladders in the event of any secondary fires started by rogue sparks. More important, the NWS data helps firefighters contain larger-scale flames and evacuate residents in danger.
Search and Rescue
Boulder County can call the NWS if a hiker or climber has been injured in the Flatirons. That way, meteorologists can inform the search and rescue team’s decision about whether its volunteers should haul their stretchers up the trail immediately or wait until a lightning-prone squall passes. More extreme rescues require even more detailed planning: During the 2013 floods, the NWS used satellite and radar to give forecast details to helicopter pilots. These included finding 45-minute windows when the clouds were floating at least 1,500 feet above the ground, so they would have enough visibility to carry out various search and rescue efforts.
Some local NWS employees work with the Federal Aviation Administration to track weather patterns around Denver International Airport and help traffic supervisors predict how many planes can land each hour. The majority of DIA’s runways are oriented north-south, so when the gusts start blowing out of the east or west, the average number of aircraft putting wheels down every 60 minutes drops from 114 to 64.