Southwest Airlines Helps Revolutionize Weather Forecasting With Water Vapor Sensing Systems

Southwest Airlines teams up with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide a missing link in weather forecasting data

Dec 12, 2013

DALLAS, Dec. 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) recently completed installation of Water Vapor Sensing Systems (WVSS-II) on 87 Boeing 737 aircraft. The water vapor initiative, a result of a partnership between Aeronautical Radio Incorporated (ARINC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and SpectraSensors, has the potential to improve weather forecasting by providing real-time and frequent humidity data when aircraft takeoff and land at airports around the country.

"Southwest's meteorology team has always worked closely with ARINC and NOAA, and the WVSS-II project is symbolic of our strong reliance on each other. We are proud to be the only passenger airline currently participating in the project and look forward to the many ways WVSS-II will impact and improve both weather forecasting and the impact on airline operations," said Rick Curtis, Chief Meteorologist, Southwest Airlines.

National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters routinely use WVSS-II observations in their day-to-day operations. Monitoring the distribution of moisture in the atmosphere and how the moisture levels change with time play an integral role in forecast preparation. Aviation forecasters rely on WVSS-II data to help determine location and timing of fog, cloud formation, and dissipation, and altitudes of cloud ceilings, all critical to determining safe conditions for aircraft travel.

"Water vapor is the most rapid-changing and under-sampled element in the atmosphere," said Carl Weiss, an aviation meteorologist for NOAA.  "On the heels of a tumultuous weather year, WVSS-II is part of a larger initiative contributing to Weather Ready Nation, our initiative focused on building community resilience in the face of extreme weather events. WVSS-II data upon takeoffs and landings allow forecasters to monitor and stay on top of how moisture is changing in the atmosphere, specifically in severe weather situations when preparedness is especially important."

WVSS-II, manufactured by SpectraSensors, Inc., measures water vapor in the atmosphere hundreds of times during an aircraft's flight. These measurements are automatically transmitted to ARINC's headquarters in Annapolis, MD, via the ARINC GLOBALink/VHFTM data link service. The moisture data along with other aircraft weather data are then forwarded in near real-time to the U.S. National Weather Service, which uses them to improve the accuracy of its computer-generated weather forecasts and severe weather warnings.

"The WVSS-II observations add a critical new piece of weather data to the forecasting puzzle," says Jeannine Hendricks, ARINC's Manager for the WVSS program. "For the first time in aircraft operations, we are collecting water vapor data that measures the humidity in the air. This has the potential to revolutionize weather forecasting—especially when predicting thunderstorms—a significant weather occurrence for aviation."

While weather balloons, previously the only method for capturing weather data, measure wind, temperature, and humidity data just twice per day at certain locations, the water vapor sensors gather humidity data throughout the day at multiple points across the nation. The improved water vapor data will have a direct benefit in the accuracy of forecasts of precipitation and clouds, which will benefit the aviation community, its customers, and the general public.

Southwest Airlines plans to continue working with ARINC and NOAA in conjunction with the National Weather Service to expand WVSS-II installations on its aircraft fleet. To learn more about the WVSS-II initiative, watch the video here.

ABOUT SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO.
In its 43rd year of service, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) continues to differentiate itself from other carriers with exemplary Customer Service delivered by more than 45,000 Employees to more than 100 million Customers annually.  Southwest is the nation's largest carrier in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded, and including wholly-owned subsidiary, AirTran Airways, operates the largest fleet of Boeing aircraft in the world to serve 96 destinations in 41 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and five near-international countries. Southwest is one of the most honored airlines in the world, known for its triple bottom line approach that takes into account the carrier's performance and productivity, the importance of its People and the communities it serves, and its commitment to efficiency and the planet.  The 2012 Southwest Airlines One Report™ can be found at southwest.com/citizenship.

Southwest Airlines
From its first flights on June 18, 1971, Southwest Airlines launched an era of unprecedented affordability in air travel quantified by the U.S. Department of Transportation as "The Southwest Effect," a lowering of fares and increase in passenger traffic wherever the carrier serves.  On every flight, Southwest offers Customers the first two pieces of checked luggage (weight and size limitations apply) and all ticket changes without additional fees. Southwest's all Boeing fleet consistently offers leather seating and the comfort of full-size cabins, many of which are equipped with satellite-based WiFi connectivity and a new, sustainable cabin interior.  With 40 consecutive years of profitability, the People of Southwest operate nearly than 3,200 flights a day and serve communities around 89 airports in Southwest's network of domestic destinations.  Southwest Airlines' frequent flights and low fares are available only at southwest.com.

AirTran Airways
AirTran Airways, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines Co., offers coast-to-coast and near-international service with nearly 500 flights a day to 44 destinations.  The carrier's high-quality product includes assigned seating and Business Class. As Southwest continues to integrate AirTran's People, places, and planes into Southwest Airlines, Customers of both carriers may book flights at airtran.com and exchange earned loyalty points between both AirTran's A+ Rewards® and Southwest's Rapid Rewards® for reward travel on either airline.

NOAA
NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA's National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Working with partners, NOAA's National Weather Service is building a Weather-Ready Nation to support community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather.

ARINC
ARINC Incorporated, a portfolio company of The Carlyle Group, provides communications, engineering and integration solutions for commercial and government customers worldwide. Headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland with regional headquarters in London and Singapore, ARINC is ISO 9001:2008 and AS9100:2009 Rev C certified.

SOURCE Southwest Airlines

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