Storm Forecasting

lightning stormExample of thunderstorm with lightning.

Weather is the direct cause of 75% of all air traffic delays greater than 15 min, and convective weather accounts for at least 60% of all weather delay. (Thunderstorms lead to $8M in severe/serious injuries annually, so safety is also a big concern.) Current estimates are that 40% of convective weather delay might be avoidable (conservatively saving $400M/year), if accurate forecasts were available and appropriate traffic flow plans could be developed.

Research Activities

MIT Lincoln Laboratory has a multifaceted approach toward research and product development that will help mitigate convective weather delay and improve safety near thunderstorms. This work has primarily been funded by the FAA Aviation Weather Research Program (Figure 1 shows FAA AWRP-funded CIWS weather forecasting products).

Storm forecasting movie still

Movie illustrating the need for short-term forecasts of weather in terminal operation. Arriving flights at Memphis International Airport, shown in red, must deviate and either divert to a different airport or fly around the weather to land behind the line of storms. Display is from the FAA ITWS before the Terminal Convective Weather Forecast was installed.
View Movie (5.10MB)

Our largest research component is geared toward providing aviation-oriented convective weather depictions and forecasts on the tactical (0–2 hr) time scales. Multiple radar data sources (NEXRAD, TDWR, Canadian), satellite imagery, surface observations and numerical model data are combined using fuzzy logic techniques to produce high-resolution precipitation VIL (Vertically Integrated Liquid) and echo tops maps, and 0–2 hr forecast loops. Growth and Decay Trends are provided as a product overlay and incorporated, along with initiation evidence, internally into the forecast storm evolution.

Live Demonstrations

Live demonstrations of our experimental products are also a high priority, allowing product use, refinement, and new product development by the various FAA Air Traffic, airline dispatch, and pilot users. Lincoln currently targets FAA operational weather/traffic systems [ITWS, WARP, CIWS, ETMS (Enhanced Traffic Management System)], automated TFM (Traffic Flow Management) decision support systems (e.g., RAPT) and cockpit data-link technology as paths to operations for our products.

Research is underway to develop forecast enhancements that will facilitate the translation of convective weather forecasts into Air Traffic Control (ATC) impacts (including translating forecast uncertainty into ATC impact uncertainty).

Improvements in Aviation Weather Information

Major contributions to improving aviation convective weather information have been made as a result of our research in all areas. In the area of convective weather detection, Lincoln developed new aviation-oriented NEXRAD Level III products High Resolution VIL (HRVIL) and High Resolution Enhanced Echo Tops (HREET), improved base-data artifact removal for ITWS and CIWS, and developed the display of the Growth and Decay Trends product for CIWS.

Storm forecastingFigure 2: Example of TCWF (Terminal Convective Weather Forecast) on operational ITWS display.

In the area of 0–2 hr tactical forecasts, Lincoln developed, demonstrated and executed the technology transfer of 0–1 hr Terminal Convective Weather Forecast (TCWF) to ITWS, which is now operational at 11 ITWS airports (Figure 2). Lincoln has also supported CIWS with development of the high-resolution 0–2 hr precipitation forecast including its winter mode, and the 0–2 hr echo tops forecast.

Since 2006, Lincoln Laboratory has been working to consolidate storm forecasting for the FAA. Under the name of CoSPA – Consolidated Storm Prediction for Aviation – researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NOAA Global Systems Division and Lincoln Laboratory have been designing and building the prototype consolidated system. The debut of CoSPA will take place by 2012 and will serve as a critical piece of the NextGen weather information architecture.

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