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Weather
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)

 

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