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University of Arizona may help firefighters

Meteorologist Michael Leuthold is one of several UA weather forecasters who helped develop a weather model that offers a much higher resolution for Arizona than what is commonly available to the National Weather Service. (Photo: D. Stolte/UANews)

PHOENIX -- The investigation into what went wrong at Yarnell Hill will focus a great deal on communication and weather.

The morning after the Granite Mountain Hotshots died, meteorologists at the University of Arizona discovered their models had predicted trouble.

"One of our models was able to predict maybe within five miles, plus or minus one hour, when the outflow from the thunderstorm or the microburst was running through Yarnell," said Mike Leuthold, a meteorologist and computer expert in the U of A's department of atmospheric sciences.

Strong, shifting winds fed the flames that surrounded the 19 firefighters. Leuthold made it clear that they are not fire weather meteorologists, but he thinks their general weather forecasts can help fire forecasters because their powerful computers provide better resolution than many other models.

"We can see features like small thunderstorms, like the one that caused trouble in Yarnell," he said. "We can see the terrain that impacts the weather."

Leuthold said the National Weather Service office in Phoenix receives their models every day and anyone can view them on the department's website at atmo.arizona.edu.

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