The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a national priority designed to meet the air transportation needs of the US in the 21st century—in particular, a significant growth in demand for air traffic services, possibly on the order of three times today's demand levels. Since weather conditions can seriously restrict aircraft operations and levels of service available to system users, the manner by which weather is observed, forecast, disseminated, and used in decision-making is of critical importance.
Web display of CoSPA analysis and forecast products, including select routes.
For more than two decades the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has funded research and development efforts aimed at improving short-term forecasting of storm hazards affecting aviation. In 2006, the FAA started integrating a wealth of different forecasting tools by focusing on the development of a single authoritative forecast system, called CoSPA. This effort brings together researchers from NCAR's Research Applications Laboratory, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and NOAA ESRL's Global Systems Division to create 0-8 hour forecasts of both summer and winter storms. The CoSPA forecasts are generated utilizing an advanced blending technique that merges heuristic-based extrapolation forecasts with output from a high-resolution, mesoscale numerical weather prediction model (i.e., the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model) that includes radar data assimilation. CoSPA produces rapidly updating, high-resolution forecasts of precipitation intensity and echo tops. The forecast system is being developed to satisfy the current needs of Air Traffic Management (ATM), as well as the future demands of NextGen, in which much of the strategic air traffic decision-making will be made utilizing automated decision support tools based on gridded probabilistic forecasts.
CoSPA has been running in real-time since 2008 with limited domain coverage during the initial two years. Since 2010 CoSPA encompasses the entire continental US as well as parts of the Gulf of Mexico, Eastern Atlantic and Southern Canada. A major milestone was reached during the summer 2010 when CoSPA was fielded at a number of FAA and airline facilities, and used in the daily operational aviation planning process for a first time. The extensive operational evaluation conducted during the summer 2010 demonstrated substantial benefits of CoSPA to daily ATM planning.
CoSPA forecasts continue to be made available to aviation planners via a web-based display from April through October (i.e., convective season) and, since fall 2015, also throughout the rest of the year (winter season). The display allows users to overlay airports and associated arrival and departure fixes, route structures, and sectors on current and forecast weather facilitating the product’s utility. Since 2011, only limited evaluations have been conducted that primarily rely on surveys and interviews with select groups of users. The CoSPA forecast products enjoy continued interest and broad usage.
An initial version of CoSPA is currently readied for acquisition by the FAA’s NextGen Weather Processor.
Research and development has continued toward improving the CoSPA forecast system as well as the system architecture. Major enhancements focused on the calibration of model storm intensity, correction of model storm position errors and treatment of storm initiation in the blending algorithm. The high-resolution numerical weather prediction model was also assessed in terms of its ability to correctly predict the rain–snow boundary (i.e., precipitation type) based on surface observations.
The inclusion of forecast uncertainty information is another area of enhancement, as storm initiation is an inherently probabilistic process. An effort to quantify uncertainty associated with storm initiation in both heuristic nowcasts and model forecasts using statistical methods and ensemble modeling is underway with a primary focus on large storms that may exert significant impacts to aviation. Algorithm development related to these efforts will also feed into the blending effort to improve the treatment of storm initiation in the 1-3 hour time frame.
It is expected that new capabilities and products will be episodically demonstrated to users as technologies mature.
The real-time CoSPA products can be accessed via a password-protected website (https://cospa.wx.ll.mit.edu) hosted by MIT Lincoln Laboratory.