Pulse of the American Weather Enterprise
The 98th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) convened in Austin, TX this past week, from January 7-11, 2018. The AMS serves as a cohesive body to bind innovation, entrepreneurial, research, private and public/operational aspects of the broader American weather enterprise together. In other words, anyone who is anyone in the field of atmospheric sciences is there; it’s the perfect chance to connect with old colleagues, learn of the latest research and dream up ways to apply new strategies and approaches.
What follows is a collection of briefs on recent experiences, new exposures and intriguing innovations in the world of atmospheric science (and how meteorology applies to so many common business practices). Communications, aviation-weather and energy sectors are but the tip of the iceberg – enjoy!
Dr. Roger Wakimoto, a man famous in his own right and acting AMS president (following the untimely passing of Dr. Matthew Parker), introduced the “natural choice” for a speaker to address the 18th Presidential Forum of the AMS – Dr. Richard B. Alley; Dr. Alley is a preeminent scholar and professor of knowledge in the field of climate change science and distinguished champion of science communications.
Unsurprisingly then from the get-go, Dr. Alley guided the audience toward his ultimate conclusion that the value of a good weather forecast cannot be overstated. Captivating visuals from his many exploits underpinned a chief thematic element of getting our science to the people that need it via, “simple stories, repeated often, from reliable sources.” One such example in practice comes from one of 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers nation-wide.
I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Roland Nunez at the end of last year (2017). During our time together, I got to explore the bustle behind the scenes of one of the FAA’s air traffic management centers – where weather often dictates the flow of commercial aircraft in the national air space. Mr. Nunez addressed issues encountered when trying to route valuable aircraft, and the people that they carry, through a sea of towering thunderheads that develop routinely during the warm season. The recipe for the operational product above (i.e., CoSPA) is one-part observation from NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite and one part surface-based radar, with a touch of ingenuity from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – that updates every 5-10 minutes.
The result is a bird’s eye view of developing storm complexes (outlined and shown by blue arrows above) and the tight, ephemeral channels (yellow arrows above) that exist between them for planes to traverse their way to a safe landing or punctual departure. Mr. Nunez’s job is to keep the head of air traffic operations on duty up to speed on these moving channel targets; it’s truly amazing – just how much the weather impacts the flow of aviation.
For example, consider London’s Heathrow Airport, where approximately 208,000 people go airborne daily (according to heathrowexpansion.com). Mr. Jason Kelly, of the United Kingdom’s Met Office, divulged that a single snowstorm precipitated 4000 flight cancellations, Heathrow Airport proper losing £24 million in operations revenue and British Airways forfeiting £50 million – all in a single day!
Also shown above is the hasty efforts of ground crews to “sweep” major taxi ways clear of a mere 4 cm of snow. Heathrow’s operations group has since staffed operational meteorologists to ensure that costly interruptions are a thing of the past.
But how long does it take for one to get a true forecast of future weather over vast territories? Depending on the precision required, it could be as simple as firing up 8 Raspberry-Pi boards in parallel to crunch 6 hours of “real-world” weather in as little as 5 minutes. Mr. Elliot Foust demonstrated his latest initiative to bring weather to the undergraduate classroom by providing out-of-the-box-ready weather model software/hardware solutions (Mr. Foust works for the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research). Can these very weather forecast models be used to predict more than just high and low temperatures in the previous time span?
In short, yes! The Weather Research & Forecasting model is something of a standard for short-term, region-scale weather prediction (when certain settings are applied). That means it can be used to infer areas of prime real estate for peak wind power generation, given a specific set of environmental conditions. Dr. William Shaw outlined the various facets of the on-going Atmosphere-to-Electrons (A2e) program on behalf of the Department of Energy. As the demand for “renewable” (e.g., wind, solar and hydro) energy technologies, those active in the weather research sector continue to lay the scientific foundation for how to make these demands reality before too long.
Dr. Alley might even say that these next several decades are “make or break” – the need to inform, engage and empower people to work collectively to reach new levels of capacity and efficiency has never before been this apparent. Cross Product aims to be near the forefront.