San Jose State Professor Collects Rim Fire Weather Data

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    NBC Bay Area
    Jon Contezac of San Jose State University's Fire Weather Lab Research team checks out equipment on his state-of-the-art CSU-MAPS truck.

    It's a fair bet to say that Craig Clements and his graduate students in the meteorology and climate science department at San Jose State University find the Rim Fire stimulating.

    Intellectually stimulating, that is.

    They are certainly not thrilled that nearly 190,000 acres of forest and Berkeley's Tuolumne Camp burned down since the fire broke out near Yosemite on Aug. 17. But they are using this real-life event -- one of the largest wildfires in California's history -- as a teachable moment.

    MORE: Rim Fire Near Yosemite Prompts Unhealthy Air Warnings in Nevada

    Raw Video: Smoke From Rim Fire Firestorm Spreads 200 Miles North

    [BAY] Raw Video: Smoke From Rim Fire Firestorm Spreads 200 Miles North
    This is aerial video from Friday's fire near Yosemite. (Published Friday, Aug. 23, 2013)

    Specifically, they are studying the fire -- all from a tricked-out Ford with Doppler laser radar equipment that is the only one of its kind in the world -- to figure out how the blaze and atmosphere interact. They're looking for answers to questions such as: "Where is the fire moving?" and "How strong are the fire winds?"

     "Hopefully, we'll be able to use this data to develop a better wildlfire forecasting system," Clements said.

    Clements' class has already collected plumes of smoke from two trips near the burn site and is currently processing the data. Sometimes, they have used a specially designed mobile atmospheric equipment, mounted on a white truck to study "state-of-the-science" measurements in remote regions, Clements said.

    On Thursday, the class plans to team up with with NASA to collect wildfire plumes by air.

    Last year, Clements received a five-year $900,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant to further his work. He is one of the world's only scientists studying wildfire-atmosphere interactions.

    SJSU's Department of Meteorology and Climate Science is the only one of its kind in the California State University System.


    Follow the reserach team on Twitter @FireWeatherLab.

    Cisco made a video profile of Clements' tricked-out Ford called the California State University Mobile Atmospheric Profiling System.

    NBC Bay Area's Alan Waples contributed to this report.