FAA terminal convective weather forcast algorithm assessment
Air traffic delay due to convective weather reached historically high levels in 1999, as passengers blamed airlines and airlines blamed the FAA for the massive inconveniences. While coordination between the FAA's System Command Center and the regional centers and terminals can be expected to improve with the FAA's new initiatives, it is clear that air traffic management and planning during convective weather will ultimately require accurate convective weather forecasts. In addition to improving system capacity and reducing delay, convective forecasts can help provide safer flight routes as well. The crash of a commercial airliner at Little Rock, AR in June 1999 after a one-hour flight from Dallas/Ft. Worth illustrates the dangers and potential tactical advantage that could be gained with frequently updated one-hour forecasts of convective storms. The Terminal Convective Weather Forecast (TCWF) product has been developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory as part of the FAA Aviation Weather' Research Convective Weather Product Development Team (PDT). Lincoln began by consulting with air traffic personnel and commercial airline dispatchers to determine the needs of aviation users (Forman, et. al., 1999). Users indicated that convective weather, particularly line storms, caused the most consistent problems for managing air traffic. The "Growth and Decay Storm Tracker" developed by Wolfson et al. (1999) allows the generation of up to 1-hour forecasts of large scale, organized precipitation features with operationally useful accuracy. This patented technology. represents a breakthrough in short-term forecasting capability, providing quantitative envelope tracking as opposed to the usual cell tracking. This tracking technology is now being utilized in NCAR's AutoNowcaster (Mueller, et al., 2000), the National Convective Weather Forecast running at the Aviation Weather Center (Megenhardt, et al., 2000) and by private sector meteorological data vendors. The TCWF has been tested in Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) since 1998, in Orlando (MCO) since 1999, and in New York (NYC) since fiscal year 2000 began. These have been informal demonstrations, with the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center (WJHTC) assessing utility to the users, and with MIT LL modifying the system based on user feedback and performance analyses. TCWF has undergone major revisions, and the latest build has now been deployed at all sites. The TCWF is now in a formal assessment phase at the Memphis international Airport as a prerequisite to an FAA operational requirement. The FAA Technical Center will make a recommendation on whether TCWF is suitable for inclusion in the FAA's operational integrated Terminal Weather System (ITWS), which has an unmet requirement for 30+ minute forecasts of convective weather. Memphis was selected for the TCWF Assessment since it has not been exposed to the forecast product during prior demonstrations. Operations began on March 24, 2000 and operational feedback is being assessed by the FAA Technical Center (McGettigan, et al., 2000) and MCR Corporation is performing a quantitative benefits assessment (Sunderlin and Paull, 2000). This paper details the refined TCWF algorithm and display concept, gives examples of the operational impact of terminal forecasts, and analyzes the technical performance of the TCWF during the early stages of the Memphis Assessment.