Aviation Weather Service Program (Part One)

The aviation weather service program is a joint effort of the National Weather Service (NWS), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and other aviation-oriented groups and individuals. This chapter discusses the civilian agencies of the U.S. Government and their observation, communication, and forecast services to the aviation community.

1.1 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is an agency of the Department of Commerce (DOC). NOAA conducts research and gathers data about the global oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun, and applies this knowledge to science and service, which touches the lives of all Americans. Among its six major divisions are the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) and the NWS.

1.1.1 National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). The NESDIS manages the U.S. civil operational remote-sensing satellite systems, as well as other global information for meteorology, oceanography, solid-earth geophysics, and solar-terrestrial sciences. NESDIS provides this data to NWS meteorologists and a wide range of other users for operational weather forecasting.

1.1.1.1 Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB). NESDIS’ SAB serves as the operational focal point for real-time imagery products and multi-disciplinary environmental analyses. The SAB’s primary mission is to support disaster mitigation and warning services for U.S. Federal agencies and the international community. Routine environmental analyses are provided to forecasters and other environmental users, and are used in the numerical models of the NWS. The SAB schedules and distributes real-time satellite imagery products from global geostationary and polar orbiting satellites to environmental users. The SAB coordinates the satellite and other information for the NOAA Volcanic Hazards Alert Program, under an agreement with the FAA, and works with the NWS as part of the Washington, D.C. Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC). The Washington, D.C. VAAC Area of Responsibility (AOR) includes the continental United States (CONUS), the Gulf of Mexico, the Oakland Flight Information Region (FIR), and the New York FIR.

1.1.2 National Weather Service (NWS). NWS provides weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters, and ocean areas for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure that can be used by other government agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community. The following is a description of NWS offices associated with aviation weather:

1.1.2.1 National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). NCEP is where virtually all global meteorological data is collected and analyzed. NCEP then provides a wide variety of national and international weather guidance products to NWS field offices, government agencies, emergency managers, private sector meteorologists, and meteorological organizations and societies throughout the world. NCEP is a critical resource in national and global weather prediction and is the starting point for nearly all weather forecasts in the United States.

NCEP is comprised of nine distinct centers and the Office of the Director. Each center has its own specific mission. The following NCEP centers provide aviation weather products and services:

1.1.2.1.1 NCEP Central Operations (NCO). The NCO in College Park, MD, sustains and executes the operational suite of the numerical analysis and forecast models and prepares NCEP products for dissemination. It also links all nine of the national centers together via computer and communications-related services.

1.1.2.1.2 Aviation Weather Center (AWC). The AWC in Kansas City, MO, issues a suite of aviation weather forecasts in support of the National Aerospace System (NAS) including: Airman’s Meteorological Information (AIRMET), significant meteorological information (SIGMET), Convective SIGMETs, Area Forecasts (FA), Significant Weather Prognostic Charts (low, middle, and high), National Convective Weather Forecast (NCWF), Current Icing Product (CIP), Forecast Icing Product (FIP), Graphical Turbulence Guidance (GTG), and Ceiling and Visibility Analysis (CVA) product. The AWC is a Meteorological Watch Office (MWO) for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The website for the AWC is http://www.aviationweather.gov. The AWC’s website provides the aviation community with textual, digital, and graphical forecasts, analyses, and observations of aviation-related weather variables. Additionally, the website provides information for international flights through the World Area Forecast System (WAFS) Internet File Service (WIFS).

The AWC’s website also provides a flight path tool that allows the user to view data along a specific route of flight. Using the flight path tool, a user can view icing, turbulence, temperature, winds, humidity, AIRMETs/SIGMETs, Aviation Routine Weather Report (METAR)/Special Weather Report (SPECI), Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF), etc. both horizontally and vertically. The flight path tool also allows many overlay options, including Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) boundaries, counties, highways, and rivers. Product animation is also possible on the AWC JavaScript image.

1.1.2.1.3 Weather Prediction Center (WPC). The WPC in College Park, MD, provides analysis and forecast products specializing in multi-day, quantitative precipitation forecasts and weather forecast guidance, weather model diagnostics discussions, and surface pressure and frontal analyses.

1.1.2.1.4 Storm Prediction Center (SPC). The SPC in Norman, OK, provides tornado and severe weather watches for the CONUS along with a suite of hazardous weather forecasts.

1.1.2.1.5 National Hurricane Center (NHC). The NHC in Miami, FL, provides official NWS forecasts of the movement and strength of tropical weather systems and issues the appropriate watches and warnings for the CONUS and surrounding areas. It also issues a suite of marine products covering the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and tropical eastern Pacific. In support of ICAO/World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the NHC is also referred to as the Tropical Cyclone Advisory Center (TCAC).

1.1.2.1.6 Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The SWPC in Boulder, CO, provides space weather information (e.g., current activity and forecasts) to a wide variety of users. SWPC issues alerts, watches, and warnings for space weather events affecting, or expected to affect, Earth’s environment.

1.1.2.2 Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU). The AAWU, located in Anchorage, AK, is an MWO for ICAO. The AAWU is responsible for the entire Anchorage FIR. They issue a suite of aviation weather products for the airspace over Alaska and adjacent coastal waters, including: AIRMETs, SIGMETs, FAs, Graphic FAs, and Significant Weather Prognostic Charts.

The AAWU is also designated as the Anchorage VAAC. The VAAC AOR includes the Anchorage FIR and Far Eastern Russia and is responsible for the issuance of Volcanic Ash Advisories (VAA).

1.1.2.3 Center Weather Service Unit (CWSU). CWSUs are units of NWS meteorologists under contract with the FAA that are stationed at, and support, the FAA’s ARTCC.

CWSUs provide timely weather consultation, forecasts, and advice to managers within ARTCCs and to other supported FAA facilities. This information is based on monitoring, analysis, and interpretation of real-time weather data at the ARTCC through the use of all available data sources including radar, satellite, Pilot Weather Reports (PIREP), and various NWS products, such as TAFs and inflight advisories.

Special emphasis is given to those weather conditions that are hazardous to aviation or which could impede the flow of air traffic within the NAS. CWSU meteorologists issue the following products in support of their respective ARTCC: Center Weather Advisories (CWA) and Meteorological Impact Statements (MIS).

1.1.2.4 Weather Forecast Office (WFO). An NWS WFO is a multi-purpose, local weather forecast center that produces, among its suite of services, aviation-related products. In support of aviation, WFOs issue TAFs, with some offices issuing Airport Weather Warnings and Soaring Forecasts.

The Honolulu WFO is unique among NWS WFOs in that it provides multiple services beyond the typical WFO. WFO Honolulu is also designated as an MWO for ICAO. As a result of this unique designation, WFO Honolulu is the only WFO to issue the following text products: AIRMETs, SIGMETs, and Route Forecasts (ROFOR). WFO Honolulu is co-located with the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC). CPHC provides official NWS forecast of the movement and strength of tropical weather systems and issues the appropriate watches and warnings for the central Pacific, including the state of Hawaii. WFO Honolulu also issues a suite of marine products covering a large portion of the Pacific Ocean. In support of ICAO/WMO, the NHC is also referred to as the TCAC.

1.2 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA, a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), provides a safe, secure, and efficient airspace system that contributes to national security and the promotion of U.S. aerospace safety. As the leading authority in the international aerospace community, the FAA is responsive to the dynamic nature of user needs, economic conditions, and environmental concerns.

The FAA provides a wide range of services to the aviation community. The following is a description of those FAA facilities that are involved with aviation weather and pilot services:

1.2.1 Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center (ATCSCC). The ATCSCC is located in Vint Hill, VA. The ATCSCC has the mission of balancing air traffic demand with system capacity. This ensures maximum safety and efficiency for the NAS, while minimizing delays. The ATCSCC utilizes the Traffic Management System (TMS), aircraft situation display, monitor alert, the follow on functions, and direct contact with ARTCC, and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility Traffic Management Units (TMU) to manage flow on a national level.

Because weather is the most common reason for air traffic delays and re-routings, NWS meteorologists support the ATCSCC. These meteorologists, called National Aviation Meteorologists (NAM), coordinate NWS operations in support of traffic flow management within the NAS.

1.2.2 Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). An ARTCC is a facility established to provide air traffic control (ATC) service to aircraft operating on instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plans within controlled airspace, principally during the en route phase of flight. When equipment capabilities and controller workload permit, certain advisory/assistance services may be provided to visual flight rules (VFR) aircraft.

En route controllers become familiar with pertinent weather information and stay aware of current weather information needed to perform ATC duties. En route controllers advise pilots of hazardous weather that may impact operations within 150 nautical miles (NM) of the controller’s assigned sector(s), and may solicit PIREPs from pilots.

1.2.3 Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) and Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON). An ATCT is a terminal facility that uses air/ground communications, visual signaling, and other devices to provide ATC services to aircraft operating in the vicinity of an airport or on the movement area.

Terminal controllers become familiar with pertinent weather information and stay aware of current weather information needed to perform ATC duties. Terminal controllers advise pilots of hazardous weather that may impact operations within 150 NM of the controller’s assigned sector or area of jurisdiction and may solicit PIREPs from pilots. ATCTs and TRACONs may opt to broadcast hazardous weather information alerts only when any part of the area described is within 50 NM of the airspace under the ATCT’s jurisdiction.

The tower controllers are also properly certified and act as official weather observers, as required.

An automated terminal information service (ATIS) is a continuous broadcast of recorded information in selected terminal areas. Its purpose is to improve controller effectiveness and to relieve frequency congestion by automating the repetitive transmission of non-controlled airport/terminal area and meteorological information.

1.2.4 Flight Service Station (FSS). FSSs provide pilot weather briefings, en route weather, receive and process IFR and VFR flight plans, solicit and disseminate pilot reports and urgent pilot reports, relay ATC clearances, and issue Notices to Airmen (NOTAM). They also provide assistance to lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations, as well as conduct VFR search and rescue services.

1.3 Dissemination of Aviation Weather Products. The ultimate users of aviation weather services are pilots, aircraft dispatchers, and air traffic management (ATM) and air traffic controllers. Maintenance personnel may use the service to keep informed of weather that could cause possible damage to unprotected aircraft.

Pilots contribute to and use aviation weather services. PIREPs help other pilots, dispatchers, briefers, and forecasters as an observation of current conditions.

In the interest of safety and in compliance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR), all pilots should get a complete weather briefing before each flight. The pilot is responsible for ensuring he or she has all information needed to make a safe flight.