Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that a National Weather Service aircraft – for the first time – will be on patrol over the Pacific Ocean gathering crucial weather data. Over the next several months, the plane will provide detailed data unavailable through other means on storm systems developing far out in the Pacific Ocean. The result will be more accurate long-term forecasts for winter storms that threaten Washington state. Over most of the Pacific Ocean, weather satellites currently provide limited data on temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and direction. Information collected by the National Weather Service aircraft will fill in crucial gaps.
“It is critical that those of us who live in the path of potentially deadly Pacific storms have the best weather predictions possible,” Cantwell said. “Washington state stands directly in the path of dangerous Pacific Ocean storms, and this plane gives us an important tool that can help protect residents, businesses, and their property. Deploying this plane over the Pacific Ocean will improve forecasting of winter storms that have historically hit Washington state hard, enabling residents to be better prepared, and potentially saving lives.”
The data from the planes will go directly to global operational forecasting centers via satellite and feed into sophisticated computer forecast models. These computer model improvements will help predict approaching weather conditions three to six days in advance, and improve the accuracy of precipitation forecasts by as much as 15 percent.
Today’s announcement bolsters Washington state’s recent progress in providing improved storm warning. Last month, Washington state received full funding for a new Doppler radar system for more accurate short-term forecasting. The $7 million included in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, along with a $2 million down-payment previously secured by Cantwell, is enough to provide Washington state with a complete Doppler coastal radar system. The National Weather Service plans to have the system installed and fully operational sometime in 2012.
Cantwell, Chair of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, has long advocated for a better weather radar system to provide Washington state communities with more accurate information about severe weather and storms that could impact local economies, businesses, homes, and safety.
In May of 2009, she released a study that found that a gap in coastal radar coverage makes it difficult for National Weather Service forecasters in Washington state to track large, dangerous storms. Expanded radar coverage will improve public safety and reduce negative economic consequences from hazardous weather through improved real-time analysis and prediction, the report concluded.
For more information on the National Weather Service’s aircraft, see today’s press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).