BOULDER--Summer thunderstorms are notorious for triggering flightschedule mayhem. In the midst of this season's share of delays andcancellations, a new forecast tool is quietly providing the airlinestheir best shot at spotting thunderstorm hazards across the nation.
Developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) withfunding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the NationalConvective Weather Forecast has been whipping out storm updates everyfive minutes over the Internet since June 1, and the major airlinesare tuning in.
"We check the updated forecast throughout the day. It's invaluable aswe determine routings and select altitudes for our aircraft," saysSteve Caisse, flight superintendent for Delta Air Lines and pastpresident of the Airline Dispatchers Federation. "It givesdispatchers a better picture of where the thunderstorms will be overthe next several hours, which is a critical element in the safe andefficient execution of our flight schedule."
Among the other major airlines using the National Convective WeatherForecast are American, Northwest, Southwest, and TWA.
An official National Weather Service guidance product, the on-line"nowcast" operates out of the NWS Aviation Weather Center (AWC) inKansas City, Missouri. Its one-hour national thunderstorm forecastautomatically updates every five minutes to help commercial airlines,the FAA, and general aviation keep planes safe and on time.
"We're working to provide the most accurate, current, and usefulthunderstorm information available within today's technology," saysNCAR project scientist Cynthia Mueller. Mueller, along withcolleagues, developed the system for the FAA over the past year fromher NCAR office in Boulder, Colorado. It is the most recent outcomeof 15 years of NCAR research and development aimed at providingthunderstorm forecasts for the aviation community.
The nowcast is used together with another recently developed guidancetool, the Collaborative Collective Forecast Product, now in itssecond year of operation at the AWC. The collaborative forecastprovides airline meteorologists with a best first guess atthunderstorm activity over the next two to six hours. Every few hoursthe AWC meteorologists, FAA flow control managers, and airlinemeteorologists adjust this initial forecast during a conference calland then plan accordingly.
But thunderstorms are not very predictable six hours ahead. Forstrategic decisions over the next hour, dispatchers need an accuratelook at the current situation. That's where the NCAR nowcast comesin, with its frequently updated national map of where thethunderstorms are now and where they're forecast to be in one hour.
According to the FAA, about 69% of air traffic control delays during1999 were due to weather.
The FAA's Aviation Weather Research Program sponsored NCAR'sdevelopment of the National Convective Weather Forecast. Someresearch assistance was provided by the MIT Lincoln Laboratories, NWSAviation Weather Center, and the National Severe Storms Laboratory(part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation. NCAR ismanaged by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, aconsortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s inatmospheric and related sciences.
Materials provided by National Center For Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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