North American Winter Storm Forecasts to Get Boost from High-Tech NOAA Plane

January 13, 2011

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 has dispatched one of its highly specialized aircraft to collect atmospheric data over the North Pacific Ocean to enhance forecasts of winter storms for the entire North American continent.

NOAA’s high-altitude, twin-engine Gulfstream IV-SP 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 collect information such as wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature and humidity. The data will be sent via satellite to global operational weather forecasting centers and fed into sophisticated computer forecast models.

“Data collected from these flights will help provide a more refined snapshot of the atmosphere, which in turn improves forecasts,” said Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, in Camp Springs, Md.

The reconnaissance missions have had a positive impact on global numerical weather prediction models which means better storm intensity and track forecasts, plus improved wind and precipitation forecasts.

Atmospheric data from the western Pacific, where most of North America’s weather originates, is scarce so NOAA incorporated the Japan-based missions into its annual Winter Storms Reconnaissance program in early 2009. Prior missions were flown from Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast.

“By expanding our reach to Japan, we are able to gather data upstream of winter storms, thereby gaining more lead time for emergency managers and responders to prepare for the impacts of severe winter weather on lives and property,” said meteorologist and flight director Jack Parrish with the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

The Gulfstream IV is based at the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center, located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. The plane is part of the NOAA fleet of research aircraft and ships operated, managed and maintained by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Find us online and on Facebook.