Pilots flying across an ocean face a more dangerous task negotiating storms than they do when crossing continents. An unexpected complex of violent storms played a major role in the 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447.
Think about it: Continents are filled with cities and tens of thousands of weather-gathering outposts. Oceans, on the other hand, are vast unpopulated expanses, so there’s no one out there gathering data.
Without real-time data, meteorologists have little basis for developing a forecast. That leaves pilots, more or less, flying blind, even though they do have onboard radar and receive periodic weather updates.
The crash claimed the lives of 228 people, and since then research into helping pilots has taken on more urgency.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research has been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop a system to help pilots avoid major storms during transocean flights. NASA helped fund the research.
The system is now in the prototype stage.
By combining satellite data and computer weather models to map storms, the prototype produces eight-hour forecasts for most of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, according to NCAR. The forecasts are updated every three hours. The system is based on technology used to guide pilots over the continental United States.
Until better forecasting is available, pilots find themselves choosing between detouring hundreds of miles or flying into an area that may or may not have a violent storm.
Source: National Center for Atmospheric Research