The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has developed a prototype system to help flights avoid major storms as they travel over remote ocean regions. The eight hour forecasts of potentially dangerous atmospheric conditions are designed for pilots, air traffic controllers, and others involved in transoceanic flights.
The NCAR-based system, developed with funding from NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, combines satellite data and computer weather models to produce maps of storms over much of the world’s oceans. The system is based on products that NCAR has developed to alert pilots and air traffic controllers about storms and related hazards, such as turbulence and lightning, over the continental United States.
Development of the forecasts was spurred in part by the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, which encountered a complex of thunderstorms over the Atlantic Ocean. NCAR worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the system.
“These new forecasts can help fill an important gap in our aviation system,” says NCAR’s Cathy Kessinger, the lead researcher on the project. “Pilots have had limited information about atmospheric conditions as they fly over the ocean, where conditions can be severe. By providing them with a picture of where significant storms will be during an eight-hour period, the system can contribute to both the safety and comfort of passengers on flights over the ocean.”