NOAA Dispatches High-Tech Research Plane to Improve Winter Storm Forecasts

January 12, 2010

Gulfstream IV-SP will be collecting data over the Pacific Ocean to improve winter storm forecasts.

Gulfstream IV will be collecting data over the Pacific Ocean to improve winter storm forecasts.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA’s Gulfstream IV aircraft, known for investigating Atlantic hurricanes, will begin flying over the North Pacific Ocean to fill gaps in atmospheric observations, which will enhance forecasts of winter storms for the entire North American continent through improved computer modeling.

The highly specialized twin turbofan jet will be stationed at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan through February before repositioning to Honolulu in March. From these locations, the aircraft will be tasked by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction — a division of NOAA’s National Weather Service — to fly into data sparse regions to collect information such as wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature and humidity. This data will be sent via satellite to global operational weather forecasting centers — and fed into sophisticated computer forecast models.

“These flights will help us better observe and understand the current state of the atmosphere over the Pacific, where most of North America’s weather originates, in order to better predict future conditions across the U.S. and Canada three to six days in advance,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md.

These computer model improvements will play an essential role in meteorological support for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in addition to more precise precipitation forecasts along the U.S. West Coast and points further east.

NOAA incorporated the Japan-based missions into its annual Winter Storms Reconnaissance program in early 2009 — flying 332 flight hours and logging miles equivalent to circling the Earth five times. Prior to 2009, missions were flown from Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast. By expanding the reach across the International Date Line to Japan, NOAA is essentially pushing farther upstream to observe areas of interest with greater lead times.

These missions showed significant positive impact to global numerical weather prediction models, increasing both accuracy and lead times for high-impact weather events. For example, model forecasts of precipitation amounts improved, on average, 10 to 15 percent.

The high altitude, high speed NOAA Gulfstream IV is based at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.