Friday, June 29, 2018

It's Time to Rename Red Flag Warning

The National Weather Service system of watches and warnings sometimes creates confusion for the public for a variety of reasons and efforts are being undertaken to evaluate and improve it.  Many people do not discern the difference between a watch and a warning and shifts from one warning type to another (e.g., hurricane to tropical storm) sometimes causes complacency when threats to life and property remain high.

In my view, the worst named warning is the Red Flag Warning.  What the hell does that mean to anyone who is not savvy about fire weather?  As noted in the National Weather Service graphic below, "red flag warnings alert fire managers on federal lands to conditions that are highly unfavorable for prescribed burns that may lead to especially dangerous wildfire growth."

There's nothing wrong with that, but many wildfires are started by people who are not professional fire managers.  As noted in a tweet by @UtahWildfire today, there have been 27 human-caused fires in Utah over the last two days.  That is simply unacceptable. 

It is time to change the name of Red Flag Warning to something that better indicates the threat and hazard to everyone.  In addition to the importance of communication for local residents, a better named warning would improve communications with the many visitors to the American southwest who may be coming from regions where the wildfire threat is limited or non-existent. 


  1. The corresponding watch is the Fire Weather Watch (not Red Flag), so we might as well change the warning name to Fire Weather Warning. That at least gets the message across better.

    Plus, the NWS code for the red flag warning is FW.W, not RF.W.

  2. Today's Red Flag Warning at the NOAA weather site for Salt Lake City includes the notation:

    A Red Flag Warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now...or are imminent. A combination of strong winds...low relative humidity...and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.