The Imperative for Increasing Real Time Vertical Atmospheric Measurements To Enable the Transportation Automation Era

The importance of the Weather Enterprise’s drive to improve forecast precision and accuracy to support a Weather Ready Nation grows more critical every day.

Society’s vulnerability to environmental events is increasing with more frequent and severe weather events that threaten lives and property; growing urban and suburban populations that require greater movement of commerce within a finite water, ground and air transportation grid; increased risk from flooding rains caused by thunderstorms and major storm systems in urban and coastal areas; and society’s reliability on environmentally sensitive technologies vital to improving lives and the economy, such as renewable energy generation, unmanned aerial vehicles and semi-autonomous and autonomous ships and vehicles.  Businesses are also becoming more attuned to how the environment affects their business and profit margins, and with big data analytical processing capabilities that can mine and fuse elements of information critical to optimizing decisions, precise and accurate weather data and forecasts is becoming more sought after in making operational business decisions.

Thus, as science and technology continues to improve, and society’s expectation for ever more refined and accurate weather data increases, weather forecasts are becoming more relevant in life and business decisions.  This drive for improved weather knowledge, pushed to any device, anywhere can only meet society’s needs if forecast accuracy becomes more reliable down to the neighborhood, highway, airport, and wind farm scale.  Improvements in model physics and resolution have delivered notable improvements in hyperlocal forecasts with the fielding of regional models such as the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model.  But there still remains one significant limiting factor in advancing the precision and accuracy of hyperlocal forecasts, and that is the availability of high-resolution vertical measurements of the atmosphere (especially in the lowest 5,000 feet of the atmosphere.)   Such real time profiles are vital to improving forecasts for such forecast challenges as thunderstorm initiation, potential severe thunderstorm intensity, precipitation type, localized fog generation and dissipation, and localized wind events, to name a few.

According to the National Research Council Study, “Observing Weather and Climate From the Ground Up,” page 122, published in 2009, “the vertically resolved water vapor field, especially in the lowest 1 KM, is most critical, being essential for improved prediction of all high impact weather.”  The study went on to recommend, “as a high infrastructure priority, federal agencies and their partners should deploy lidars and radio frequency profilers nationwide at approximately 400 sites to continually monitor lower tropospheric conditions.”  The intent was to build a high latency measuring network to complement aircraft, satellite, GPS radio occultation and rawinsonde measurements to adequately capture vertical measurements of water vapor, temperature and wind to improve hyperlocal weather forecasts.

To date, the vertical profiler network has not been deployed due to costs and operational hurdles, and meteorologists are seeking other methods to fill the vertical profiling gap needed to improve hyperlocal forecasts.  The industry is looking at how small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can potentially close this gap by flying weather sensors, at low altitudes, to provide meteorologists with information not previously available to them, critical for providing better decision services.  An affordable, easy to deploy and operate and sustainable UAV vertical profiling capability can improve hyperlocal forecasts that are critical to “new economy” initiatives such as renewable energy, commercial UAV applications and autonomous vehicle operations over the next ten years.

Using UAVs is a good first step in increasing the sensing of the atmosphere, especially in advance of expected severe weather; but in an era where technology can solve so many problems, the weather industry can and must do better if we are going to meet the needs of the “new economy” industries and provide the kind of hyperlocal forecasts needed to safely and effectively move into greater transportation automation.  The solutions are available, it is about the public and private sector working together to find ways to field systems to fill the gap.

Don Berchoff, CEO of TruWeather Solutions was the National Weather Service Science and Technology Director between 2008-2012 and was a key participant in the formation and growth of the NWS Mesonet Program.


Don Berchoff
CEO TruWeather Solutions