Updated: October 2, 2023
Remote automatic weather stations have been installed recently in areas in Lahaina and Māʻalaea with invasive grasses that can be vulnerable to wildfires.
The technology enables the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife to collect data to predict fire behavior and monitor fire-stoking fuels.
These stations collect data including precipitation, wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, fuel moisture, and solar radiation for rangers and firefighters.
There are two stations in Lahaina and one above Mā‘alaea.
Remote automatic weather stations’ data is collected hourly and transmitted to a satellite, which then sends it to a computer at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
The data is helpful for wildland fire management and rating fire danger. There are approximately 2,800 remote automatic weather station units throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.
There are 22 stations in Hawai‘i managed by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Remote automatic weather station units are solar powered and completely automated.
“Not only do the fire departments look at the data but the data is used by weather researchers for forecasting and modeling,” said Fire Protection Forester Mike Walker with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Forestry staff regularly check the information online to monitor the temperature and humidity to determine fire risk for the area. There also are stations elsewhere that have cameras that enable early fire detection
“Hopefully, we will be adding some cameras to our stations soon,” Walker said.
While the remote automatic weather station units may not be able to indicate whether there is an active fire, the information and data the units collect are of significant value in monitoring fire threats.
“They are a great tool to determine fire risk, and we have two portable stations that can be deployed to monitor local fire conditions,” Walker said. “One portable was deployed during the Leilani volcanic eruption on Hawaiʻi Island to monitor weather at a geothermal plant. The lava flow cut off access and we couldn’t get back to it for almost a year.”
Each remote automatic weather station unit costs $25,000 to set up and another $1,000 each year per station to maintain.