The next flight you take or the next package you have delivered may just be helping to predict the weather. We all like to know what the future holds, as far as the weather is concerned. Nowhere is this more prevalent than when traveling, and the fate of a flight or a connecting flight depends on it.
The little package making this possible is known as the water vapor sensor system (WVSS II) manufactured by SpectraSensors, Inc. The sensor is about 5.5 inches long and is mounted on the outside of an aircraft creating minimal drag. Using air that is continuously drawn from outside the aircraft, lasers measure the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere thousands of times per flight. Giving meteorologists an insight into humidity levels on a global stage every six seconds. All being done at a much lower cost, than with current methods of using weather balloons which are launched every 12 hours from 70 sites in the US and 350 globally. Where weather is concerned, the difference of 12 hours can make a significant difference when determining an accurate forecast that benefits the aviation community.Two United States based airlines currently using this system on their aircraft are the United Parcel Service (UPS) and Southwest Airlines. UPS was the first to place the WVSS II on 25 of their aircrafts, with Southwest Airlines placing the system on 87 of their Boeing 737 aircraft. Rick Curtis, Chief Meteorologist, Southwest Airlines stated “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,”. Outside of the United States there are more than a dozen WVSS II units being deployed in various European and Australian meteorological services, with hopes of expanding their use to all continents.
Due to a partnership between Aeronautical Radio Incorporated (ARINC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and SpectraSensors, humidity information collected by the WVSS II along with meteorological wind and temperature data are sent to the U.S. National Weather Service. The information is then used to improve the accuracy of it’s weather models and forecasts. The accurate measurement of water vapor, wind and temperature are important, because they are the first predictors of thunderstorms, snow storms, fog, wind and visibility. “Water vapor is the most rapid-changing and under-sampled element in the atmosphere,” said Carl Weiss, an aviation meteorologist for NOAA. Making this information so vital and essential for airlines to operate a cost effective and safe flying environment. The information being received continuously throughout the day by these sensors is not only improving forecasting data being used by the airlines in-house, but is also being used to benefit the general public. The beauty of this program is that the more airlines that participate in this program, the more accurate forecasts can be for everyone.