Modeling wind direction distributions using a diagnostic model in the context of probabilistic fire spread prediction
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Rachael Quill; Jason J. Sharples; Natalie S. Wagenbrenner; Leesa A. Sidhu; Jason M. Forthofer
Publication Year: 2019

Cataloging Information

  • Australia
  • complex terrain
  • deterministic model
  • ensemble modeling
  • probability distribution
  • uncertainty
  • von Mises
  • wind model
  • WindNinja
  • International
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: January 4, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 60515


With emerging research on the dynamics of extreme fire behavior, it is increasingly important for wind models, used in operational fire prediction, to accurately capture areas of complex flow across rugged terrain. Additionally, the emergence of ensemble and stochastic modeling frameworks has led to the discussion of uncertainty in fire prediction. To capture the uncertainty of modeled fire outputs, it is necessary to recast uncertain inputs in probabilistic terms. WindNinja is the diagnostic wind model currently being applied within a number of operational fire prediction frameworks across the world. For computational efficiency, allowing for real-time or faster than real-time prediction, the physical equations governing wind flow across a complex terrain are often simplified. The model has a number of well documented limitations, for instance, it is known to perform poorly on leeward slopes. First, this study is aimed at understanding these limitations in a probabilistic context, by comparing individual deterministic predictions to observed distributions of wind direction. Secondly, a novel application of the deterministic WindNinja model is presented in this study which is shown to enable prediction of wind direction distributions that capture some of the variability of complex wind flow. Recasting wind fields in terms of probability distributions enables a better understanding of variability across the landscape, and provides the probabilistic information required to capture uncertainty through ensemble or stochastic fire modeling. The comparisons detailed in this study indicate the potential for WindNinja to predict multi-modal wind direction distributions that represent complex wind behaviors, including re-circulation regions on leeward slopes. However, the limitations of using deterministic models within probabilistic frameworks are also highlighted. To enhance fire prediction and to better understand uncertainty, it is recommended that statistical approaches also be developed to complement existing physics-based deterministic wind models.

Online Link(s):
Quill, Rachel; Sharples, Jason J.; Wagenbrenner, Natalie S.; Sidhu, Leesa A.; Forthofer, Jason M. 2019. Modeling wind direction distributions using a diagnostic model in the context of probabilistic fire spread prediction. Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering 5:5.