Weather forecasters in the middle of the United States are making better local predictions for pilots thanks to an airborne sensor being tested by NASA’s Aviation Safety Program.
Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., led the team that designed, built and equipped dozens of Mesaba Airlines planes with the Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report instrument, which allows planes to automatically sense and report atmospheric conditions. Observations are sent by satellite to a ground data center that processes and distributes up-to-date weather information to forecasters and pilots.
“Initial research shows the airborne sensor makes a 10% to 20% improvement in forecast error in numerical models and that’s just with temperature,” said Taumi Daniels, NASA project leader. The sensor also measures humidity, pressure, winds, icing and turbulence with the help of location, time and altitude provided by built-in GPS technology.
There are 70 weather balloon sites in the continental United States that collect temperature, wind and moisture data from twice-daily atmospheric soundings. This experiment adds 800 more daily atmospheric soundings.
“Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have found the Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report to be useful in forecasting severe thunderstorms, dense fog, precipitation types of winter storms and low- level wind shear,” said Richard Mamrosh, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Green Bay, Wis. “In summertime its best use is in determining if and when thunderstorms might develop. In wintertime it really helps in determining whether a storm will bring sleet, freezing rain or snow.”