In order to forecast the weather meteorologists need data, lots of data. Where does that information come from? There are many sources including, National Weather Service Office observations, cooperative observers, observations from ships at sea, satellite imagery, and computer forecast models. That sums up all of the sources, right? Wrong! I’ll bet you would never guess this last source. Believe it or not it is pilot reports from commercial airlines.
During our Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic airline travel came to a grinding halt. Some flights deemed necessary continue, but for the most part the commercial airline business is in shut-down. A March 24, 2020 article on Forbes.com titled “Could Less Air Travel Due To COVID-19 Coronavirus Degrade Weather Forecasts?” was written by Senior Contributor Marshall Shepherd. That is what triggered my interest in explaining just how important these reports are to every day weather forecasting.
The reduction in flights is important. Quoting the article “To understand the importance of this reduction, a little history lesson is in order. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) Panel was created in 1998 to facilitate the use of aircraft observations in weather analysis and forecasting.”
Exactly what does AMDAR do? An article on their website titled “How aircraft observations benefit the safety, efficiency, and environmental footprint of international civil aviation and contribute to the Global Observing System written by Frank Grooters explains: “Today, the AMDAR system facilitates the fully automated collection and transmission of weather observations from commercial aircraft, as well as some military and private aircraft. The primary data set from each aircraft participating in the AMDAR programme includes position in time and space, wind speed and direction, and ambient temperature.” That’s a lot of data to add to all of the other information collected for producing accurate weather forecasts.
Before AMDAR the chief means of gathering data concerning the layers of the atmosphere above us was the use of Radiosondes. The National Weather Service defines radiosonde as “An instrument that is carried aloft by a balloon to send back information on atmospheric temperature, pressure and humidity by means of a small, expendable radio transmitter. Radiosondes can be tracked by radar, radio direction finding, or navigation systems (such as the satellite Global Positioning System) to obtain wind data.” According to WMO the cost of the AMDAR system is less than one percent of the coast of radiosonde soundings.
According to the article “Studies show a conclusive, positive impact of AMDAR data in weather-forecast operations. Real-time use of high-quality vertical profiles of AMDAR temperature and wind in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong (China),and the USA has proved to contribute significantly to the improvement in short-to medium-term forecasting applications.They are particularly useful for nowcasting situations, where conditions are changing rapidly and are therefore of special use to the aviation industry.”
It’s easy to see just how important it is to get the airline industry up and running again for the obvious business reasons and, as you just learned, the weather forecasters all over the word to keep us informed about ever-changing weather conditions.
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