Southwest, UPS Airliners Aid in Weather Forecasting Revolution

Published June 19, 2014

Airliner water vapor readings by altitude

Map shows May 5 data, more than 54,000 reports

Southwest Airlines and UPS have equipped 112 of their aircraft with devices
that measure moisture in the atmosphere. On a given day, that fleet of planes
makes more than 50,000 reports. This data, particularly at lower altitudes, help
National Weather Service forecasters make more accurate weather predictions.

Southwest and UPS say
their real-time data help cut
costs and reduce delays. The NWS
also collects atmospheric data from weather
balloons. But that data can be as much as
12 hours old or hundreds of miles from where
meteorologists need it.

Weather balloons

The NWS launches balloons twice a day from 69 locations in the
continental U.S. As the balloons climb to as high as 115,000 feet,
they transmit information about temperature, winds and humidity.
While the planes don't fly to some areas of the country, they make
about eight times more landings and takeoffs as balloon launches.

Sources: National Weather Service Aircraft Observation Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

GRAPHIC: ALEX TRIBOU / BLOOMBERG VISUAL DATA