The Marine Stratus Initiative at San Francisco International Airport
June 25, 1996
San Francisco International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the United States and one of the highest delay airports in terms of total aircraft delay hours and number of imposed air traffic delay programs. As with most airports, weather is the primary cause of aircraft delay. In particular, the local airspace is prone to regular occurrences of low cloud ceiling conditions due to intrusion of marine air from the eastern Pacific Ocean from May through September. Typically, this layer of stratus clouds forms in the San Francisco Bay area overnight and dissipates during the middle to late morning. The timing of the stratus cloud dissipation is such that it frequently poses a threat to the morning arrival push of air traffic into San Francisco. Weather forecasters at the Central Weather Service Unit (CWSU) at the Oakland AirRoute Traffic Control Center are responsible for providing a forecast whether or not the cloudiness will impact morning traffic operations. This information is used for decision making by the Traffic Management Unit at Oakland Center in order to optimally match arriving traffic demand to available airport capacity. As part of the FAA's Integrated Terminal Weather System, the Weather Sensing Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory has begun an effort entitled the "Marine Stratus Initiative." Its objective is to provide improved weather information and forecast guidance to the Oakland CWSU, which is responsible for providing weather forecasts to air traffic managers. During 1995, the main focus of the project was the design and implementation of a data acquisition, communication, and display infrastructure that provides forecasters with new sources of weather data and information. These initial capabilities were tested during an operational demonstration in August and September. As the project continues, the intent is to improve these new data sources and develop an automated or semi-automated algorithm that will process raw information to provide weather forecasters with numerical guidance to assist them in the forecast process. A description of airport operations at San Francisco and the impact of marine stratus are presented. An explanation is given of the marine stratus phenomenology and the primary factors contributing to cloud dissipation. This conceptual model of the dissipation process is used to define system requirements. A description of the hardware, communications, and display subsystems is provided. An overview of the 1995 demonstration, including user comments, is presented, as well as future plans for meeting the longer-term objectives of the project.