infoTECH Feature

December 18, 2013

Southwest Airlines Works for Enhancing Weather Forecasting Methods

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (LUV) has been participating in the ‘water vapor’ initiative launched by the partnership between Aeronautical Radio Incorporated (ARINC), National Oceanic (News - Alert) and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and SpectraSensors. And Southwest recently installed the Water Vapor Sensing Systems (WVSS-II on the 87 Boeing 737 aircraft in order to test the impact of the new weather forecasting system and suggest if any tweaks are necessary.

Until now weather forecasts were done using information derived from weather balloons, surface reports, weather satellites, weather radars, and pilot reports and that info is input into a computer model to depict future weather patterns.

Now the WVSS-II system developed by SpectraSensors, is designed to meet the demanding need for accurate observations of atmospheric water vapor from commercial aircraft, in support of the global AMDAR program and related efforts. WVSS-II is also suitable for atmospheric research applications, using alternative installation and communications interfaces.

Installed over the Southwest’s Boeing (News - Alert) aircraft, the WVSS-II will supply data on atmospheric water vapor, precipitation and most severe weather – all critical to determining safe conditions for aircraft travel. The water vapor data is then forwarded in near real-time to the U.S. National Weather Service, which uses them to improve the accuracy of its computer-generated weather forecasts and severe weather warnings.

Carl Weiss, an aviation meteorologist for NOAA, explained, “Water vapor is the most rapid-changing and under-sampled element in the atmosphere. On the heels of a tumultuous weather year, WVSS-II is part of a larger initiative contributing to Weather Ready Nation, our initiative focused on building community resilience in the face of extreme weather events. WVSS-II data upon takeoffs and landings allow forecasters to monitor and stay on top of how moisture is changing in the atmosphere, specifically in severe weather situations when preparedness is especially important.”

Jeannine Hendricks, manager for the WVSS program at ARINC (News - Alert), added, “The WVSS-II observations add a critical new piece of weather data to the forecasting puzzle. For the first time in aircraft operations, we are collecting water vapor data that measures the humidity in the air. This has the potential to revolutionize weather forecasting – especially when predicting thunderstorms – a significant weather occurrence for aviation.”

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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