Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Proclaiming Rain Falls Mainly to a Plane

Since january, newly developed sensors affixed to 64 commuter planes owned by Eagan, MN-based Mesaba Airlines (a Northwest Airlink affiliate) have been sending real-time data on humidity, temperature, wind speed, turbulence, atmospheric pressure, and location to a central station on the ground. In early findings, data from the planes is allowing forecasters to predict with far greater precision the arrival time of precipitation or freezing temperatures and the likelihood of severe thunderstorms or fog.

Readings from the sensors fill a huge gap in the data meteorologists collect. The lower ranges of the atmosphere, below 6,000 meters, are where weather forms. But currently, in the entire United States, 69 weather balloons take just two daily “soundings” in the lower atmosphere. In the new project, each commuter plane takes measurements every time it takes off and lands – which adds up to 600 to 800 total soundings daily. The planes also send regular dispatches from cruising altitudes.

“The amount of data we’re getting is just incredible,” says Jeff Last, a Green Bay, WI, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, one of the agencies involved in the project. In one test this winter, a forecast using data from the sensors accurately predicted a snowstorm’s arrival, while a traditional forecast was off by three hours.

In addition to the National Weather Service, the project involves other government agencies, including NASA, and several universities and private companies. AirDat of Morrisville, NC, the company that processes the sensor data, hopes to eventually sell climate information to airlines, agricultural businesses, and others interested in a sharper weather picture.

From “Visual Aids
(July 1955, p. 468)


0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Business

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me