NOAA 2002-073
Contact: John Lelsie
NOAA News Releases 2002
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NOAA Issues Outlook For Summer; Unveils New Fire Detector on NOAA Satellite

The hot, dry conditions, which have fueled raging wildfires in several western states, are expected to hang on through September, according to the latest seasonal outlook from NOAA's National Weather Service, an agency of the Commerce Department. Along the East Coast, forecasters today also predicted drought conditions to slowly improve as summer unfolds.

Since January, wildfires have torched nearly 1.4 million acres of the nation's landscape – from New Jersey to California. That is nearly twice the yearly average for this time of year, and 200,000 acres more than in 2000, the worst year on record. Currently, 19 large fires are burning, including six in Colorado, where residents in Denver this week had to contend with smoky haze from the state's worst fire on record.

Speaking at a news conference at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md., John E. Jones Jr., deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service, said, "The summer outlook does not bode well for the wildfire situation in the West, where conditions are ripe for more fire activity."

While forecasters project above-normal rainfall over much of Colorado and eastern Utah, Jones said the extra rain would do little to improve drought conditions in those areas, because the rainfall amounts will still not be enough erase the water deficit.

NCEP's Climate Prediction Center is the section of NOAA's National Weather Service that issues long-range climate and weather outlooks.

Outlook for the West

  • Jones said states in the West, including the Southwest and southern Texas, are likely to experience above-normal temperatures through September, while the rest of the country has an even chance of feeling above, below or average heat.
  • Recent record high temperatures helped stoke the flames of wildfires in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas. "Prolonged drought, coupled with high temperatures, and strong winds, spell fire danger anywhere," Jones said.
  • Although late-season snowfall in parts of Montana has improved the drought status somewhat, serious drought problems persist. He added that NOAA forecasters are expecting below-normal rainfall throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, northern Nevada and northern California.

Rains Ease Drought In East

  • Along the East Coast, near-to-above average rainfall helped bring drought relief to major metropolitan areas from Washington, D.C., to Boston during Spring, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Reservoir levels climbed as seasonal precipitation was above average following five consecutive months (October through February) of below-average precipitation in the Northeast.

Jim Laver, director of the Climate Prediction Center, said "Despite the rain, drought conditions still exist in the East, especially in the Southeast where the real focus is now. The precipitation made a dent in the drought, especially across the Appalachians and Northeast, but as a whole, the East is not out of the woods yet," Laver said.

New Fire Detector From Space
NOAA is unveiling a new weapon being added to the firefighters arsenal. NOAA's Environmental Satellite and Data Service has developed a new technique using data from their geostationary satellites to automatically detect wildfires and relay real time satellite imagery to fire managers and weather and climate scientists. Relayed every 30 minutes, the images are especially useful in showing the progress of fast-growing fires and in finding fires in remote areas. The technique was developed by researchers at NOAA and the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center in Madison, Wisc., and will be deployed and fully operational by September.

NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. To learn more about the National Weather Service, visit

For more information about drought and wildfires online, visit and

The seasonal outlook is available at:

Satellite imagery using the new technique is online at: