NOAA 2000-R290
Contact: John Leslie


Eighty-two years ago on Dec. 1, 1918, not long after the Wright Brothers historic first 12 second, 120ft. flight, the U.S. Weather Bureau issued the first aviation weather forecast for the fledgling new industry. Today, NOAA's National Weather Service uses a combination of high-technology and skilled meteorologists to develop aviation weather forecasts for every single flight in the United States, and for two-thirds of the air traffic around the globe.

"Back then, the early forecasters had little experience with aviation weather phenomena of thunderstorms, fog, low clouds, icing and turbulence that impact today's flights," said Mark Andrews, chief of the NWS Aviation Weather Services Branch.

Andrews said advanced computer technology, combined with the skill and experience of meteorologists, have helped improve the speed, accuracy and quality of aviation forecasts, which are critical for flight safety. "Air traffic controllers and pilots are receiving more information today than ever before, which helps them make smarter decisions about whether to fly in marginal weather," he said.

Since 1918, aviation weather forecast operations have grown from twice daily forecasts, issued then by weather offices situated along main flight routes, to a total average now of nearly 4,000 forecasts each day. The 121 NWS weather forecast offices issue close to 2,500 aviation weather forecasts to 537 airports around the nation every day. The local offices also issue nearly 1,300 en route flight forecasts a day. Meteorologists at the Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit in Anchorage issue a combined 275 weather products -- forecasts, warnings and advisories -- daily.

Additionally, Center Weather Service Unit meteorologists, positioned at 21 FAA Air Route Traffic Control Centers across the country, provide in-person guidance to air traffic controllers about threatening weather conditions.

To generate aviation forecasts, meteorologists at the AWC and AAWU use images from satellites circling the globe, improved model data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, real-time weather data from Doppler radar and Automated Surface Observation System units at America's airports. ASOS provides minute-by-minute updates on vital weather information including cloud heights, wind speed and precipitation. That information is available to forecasters around the clock.

"The agency's whole aviation weather forecast operation, and the high-quality services it provides, has come a long way since the days of the Wright Brothers, and will only get stronger in the years to come," Andrews said, adding that in September NCEP upgraded its models to make them more conducive to forecasting aviation weather.

In Anchorage, the AAWU's forecasts cover Alaska, parts of the North Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean, extending to the North Pole and a large area of northeast Russia. Elliott Barske, the meteorologist-in-charge at the AAWU, said "with so much of the region's economy dependent on flying, it is crucial that decision makers have aviation weather forecasts they can trust."

The AWC introduced the "Aviation Test Bed" this year, giving the center the capability to test new forecast products from the research community. "From this research, we expect greater skills in forecasting turbulence, thunderstorms and icing," said Jim Henderson, the AWC's deputy director.

In April, the AWC and the FAA debuted the Collaborative Convective Forecast Product, which uses a new interactive forecast technique designed to lessen weather-related flight delays and cancellations. The CCFP allows meteorologists from the AWC, FAA and the airlines to agree on a weather forecast as much as six hours in advance.

Andrews said the NWS, the FAA "and the entire aviation community are our partners in the pursuit of providing the best possible aviation weather services, and we will continue to meet their needs."