Weather balloons are used daily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to gather weather information from high in the atmosphere in order to monitor changing conditions and make predictions. Currently, these balloons are sent up twice a day, but just think of the more accurate predictions that could be made if every commercial plane that took off was equipped with sensors that could gather that information?
That's exactly what is happening through a partnership with Southwest Airlines and UPS. Southwest has added water vapor sensors to 87 of its Boeing 737 aircrafts while UPS is adding sensors to 25 of its jets which transmit real-time data to the National Weather Service. That amounts to less than one percent of the U.S. commercial fleet, but it's still more than the amount of weather balloons sent up daily.
Richard Mamrosh, a senior forecaster at the Weather Service’s office in Green Bay, Wisconsin said to Bloomberg" that the Weather Service’s weather balloon program takes soundings only twice a day from 69 locations in the continental U.S. and the data radioed to the ground can be as much as 12 hours old or hundreds of miles away from where meteorologists need it.Aircraft can gather more real-time data that covers a greater area around the country.
Many airplanes already gather and send temperature and wind data to the National Weather Service, but humidity is crucial for predicting storms and other weather events. The more airplanes equipped with these sensors, the better predictions can be made.
This benefits all of us including the airlines themselves. With this better data pool, airlines are able to analyze the risks of flying in certain conditions more accurately, potentially saving money and protecting their customers.