Aviation Weather – Evolving for the Future

By Ron Moyers, Aviation Weather Center Executive Officer

The Aviation Weather Center (AWC) delivers consistent, timely, and accurate weather information for the world airspace system in order to enhance safe and efficient flight.  An evolution of AWC’s forecasting tools is currently underway and is changing the face of aviation weather prediction.

Much of the aviation community is aware that the area forecast is no longer produced, and if the retirement of the area forecast left you scratching your head, you probably missed the rollout of its replacement. The Graphical Forecast for Aviation (GFA) is one of the most powerful tools on NOAA’s Aviation Weather Center site. If it is not already, the GFA will likely become one of the best weather products in your toolbox.

Within the GFA, a user can display observations and warnings, terminal forecasts, ceilings and visibility, forecast clouds, turbulence forecasts, and more. One of the more impressive aspects of the GFA is that it will allow you to adjust the forecast time from the current time up to 15 hours into the future. It is an excellent feature for reviewing the weather along your route the night prior to departure or for when your flight is scheduled later in the day.

When displaying observations, you can also replay the conditions from the previous 14 hours, making the GFA an outstanding tool for understanding trends, especially during rapidly changing conditions. 

Beyond the retirement of the area forecast and the introduction of GFA, some exciting changes are taking place with regard to how aviation weather is forecast. Historically, aviation meteorologists at the Aviation Weather Center produced forecasts for specific regions. Being responsible for one region meant that each element of aviation weather must be forecast for that region, including icing, turbulence, clouds, and visibility.

Effective March 27, 2018, the AWC will begin element-based forecasting. This forecasting approach allows each meteorologist to concentrate on one element of aviation weather for the entire continental United States. 

“The AWC meteorologists will be able to really focus on forecast parameters and PIREPS of only one element resulting in improved weather information to decision makers,” said Debra Blondin, chief of the Domestic Operations Branch at AWC.

These are just a couple of the many improvements the AWC is implementing to continue providing world-class service and support to aviators, dispatchers, and airspace planners. 

Bob Maxson, director of the AWC, who has previously piloted many NOAA aircraft including the hurricane-hunting Gulfstream IV, said forecasters at AWC played a significant role in making his aviation missions as safe as possible.

“This same drive for excellence remains in AWC’s staff today, along with significantly improved technologies that include enhanced numerical predictive weather model guidance, upgrades in our NEXRAD radar upgrades, and the recent and revolutionary GOES-16/17 satellite observational capabilities,” Bob said. “This combination of forecaster skill and these new technologies make aviation weather a truly exciting place to be, and we look forward to providing even better warnings and forecasts to our stakeholders.”

Photos courtesy of NOAA

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