Automated airport weather station


Automated airport weather station

Automated airport weather stations are automated sensor suites which are designed to serve aviation and meteorological observing needs for safe and efficient aviation operations and weather forecasting. Automated airport weather stations have become the backbone of weather observing in the United States and Canada, and are becoming increasingly prevalent world-wide due to their efficiency and cost-savings.

ystem types within the United States

In the United States, there are several varieties with somewhat subtle but important differences. These include the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), and Automated Weather Sensor System (AWSS).

Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS)

The Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) units are operated and controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, as well as by state and local governments and some private agencies; the American National Weather Service (NWS) and Department of Defense (DOD) play no role in their operation or deployment.

These systems are among the oldest automated weather stations and predate ASOS. They generally report at 20-minute intervals and do not report special observations for rapidly changing weather conditions. There are several varieties of AWOS depending upon the sensor systems which are installed; the most common type is the AWOS-III, which observes temperature and dewpoint in degrees Celsius, wind speed and direction in knots, visibility, cloud coverage and ceiling up to twelve thousand feet, and altimeter setting. Recently, additional sensors which have become available for AWOS systems include present weather, freezing rain, and thunderstorm (lightning).

Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS)

The Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) units are operated and controlled cooperatively in the United States by the NWS, FAA and DOD. After many years of research and development, the deployment of ASOS units began in 1992 and was completed in 2004.

These systems generally report at hourly intervals, but also report special observations if weather conditions change rapidly and cross aviation operation thresholds. They generally report all the parameters of the AWOS-III, while also having the additional capabilities of reporting temperature and dewpoint in degrees Fahrenheit, present weather, icing, lightning, sea level pressure and precipitation accumulation.

Besides serving aviation needs, ASOS serves as a primary climatological observing network in the United States, making up the first-order network of climate stations. Because of this, not every ASOS is located at an airport; for example, one of these units is located at Central Park in New York City and another is located on Cabbage Hill near Pendleton, Oregon, for the sole purpose of providing climatological observations.

Automated Weather Sensor System (AWSS)

As with the AWOS, the Automated Weather Sensor System (AWSS) units are operated and controlled by the FAA in the United States; the NWS and DOD play no role in their operation or deployment.

The reporting characteristics of the AWSS are very similar to those of ASOS.

Observing equipment

Automated airport weather stations use a variety of sophisticated equipment to observe the weather.

Wind speed and direction

A majority of automated airport weather stations are equipped with a standard wind vane and cup system to measure wind speed and direction. This system works similarly to many older wind measurement systems; the wind spins three horizontally turned cups around the base of the wind vane, providing an estimation of the wind's speed, while the vane on top turns so that the face of the vane offers the least resistance to the wind, causing it to point in the direction the wind is coming from and thus providing the wind direction.

The tendency for these systems to freeze up during winter weather has resulted in the development of a new ultrasonic wind sensor. The new ultrasonic sensors use ultrasound to determine horizontal wind speed and direction. The measurement is based on the time it takes for an ultrasonic pulse to travel from one transducer to another, which varies depending on the wind speed. The transit time is measured in both directions for three pairs of the transducer heads. Using the two measurements for each of the three ultrasonic paths at 60° angles to each other, the sensor is able to compute the wind speed and direction. Only select NWS, AWOS, and FAA ASOS stations are currently equipped with the ultrasonic wind sensors.

Visibility

Automated airport weather stations use a forward scatter sensor which determines the local air clarity and translates it into prevailing visibility. The sensor uses a beam of xenon light which is sent from one end of the sensor toward the receiver, but offset from a direct line to the receiver by 45 degrees. The amount of light deflected by particles in the air into the receiver determines the clarity of the air. Computer algorithms then translate the amount of scattered light into a prevailing visibility. The current sensors available for deployment cannot detect differences in visibility that are less than 1/4 mile or greater than 10 miles. Thus, visibilities are only reported at a maximum of 1/4 mile increments, with visibility significantly below 1/4 mile being reported as "M1/4" (less than 1/4 mile); visibilities above 10 miles are reported as equal to 10 miles.

Present weather (falling precipitation)

Automated airport weather stations use a Light Emitting Diode Weather Identifier (LEDWI) to determine if and what type of precipitation is falling. The LEDWI sensor measures the pattern of the precipitation falling through the sensor's infrared beam (approximately 50 millimeters in diameter) and determines from a pattern analysis of the particle size and fall velocity whether the precipitation is rain or snow. If precipitation is determined to be falling, but the pattern is not conclusively identified as either rain or snow, unknown precipitation is reported. Automated airport weather stations are not yet able to report hail, ice pellets, and various other intermediate forms of precipitation.

Obscurations to vision

Automated airport weather stations do not have a separate sensor for detecting specific obscurations to vision. Instead, when visibility is reduced below 7 statute miles, the system uses the reported temperature and dewpoint to determine an obscuration to vision. If relative humidity is low (i.e, there is a large difference between the temperature and dewpoint), haze is reported. If relative humidity is high (i.e, there is a small difference between the temperature and the dewpoint), mist or fog is reported, depending on the exact visibility. Fog is reported when visibility is 1/2 mile or less; mist is reported for visibilities greater than 1/2 mile but less than 7 miles. If the temperature is below freezing, humidity is high and visibility is 1/2 mile or less, freezing fog is reported.

Cloud coverage and ceiling

Automated airport weather stations use an upward-pointing laser beam ceilometer to detect the amount and height of clouds. The laser is pointed upward, and the time required for reflected light to return to the station allows for the calculation of the height of the cloud base. Because of the limited coverage area (the laser can only detect clouds directly overhead), the system computer calculates a time-averaged cloud cover and ceiling, which is reported to external users. To compensate for the danger of rapidly changing sky cover, the averaging is weighted toward the first 10 minutes of the 30-minute averaging period. The range of the ceilometer is 12,000 feet; clouds above that height are not detectable by automated stations at present.

Temperature and dew point

Automated airport weather stations use a temperature/dew point sensor (hygrothermometer) designed for continuous operation which normally remains on at all times, except during maintenance.

The measurement of temperature is simple compared to the dew point. Operating under the principle that electrical resistance varies with temperature, a platinum wire resistive temperature device measures the ambient air temperature.

In contrast, the dew point measurement is considerably more complex. The dew point sensor contains a chilled mirror that is cooled to the point where a fine film of condensation forms on the mirror's surface. The temperature of the mirror at this condition is equal to the dew point temperature. The hygrometer measures the dew point by directing a light beam from a small infrared diode to the surface of the mirror at an angle of 45 degrees. Two photo transistors are mounted so they measure a high degree of reflected light when the mirror is clear (direct) and scattered light when the mirror is clouded with visible condensation (indirect). With the formation of condensation on the mirror, the degree of cloudiness of the mirror surface increases with the direct transistor receiving less light and the indirect transistor more light. The output from these photo transistors controls the mirror cooling module which is an electronic heat pump that operates much like a thermocouple in reverse, producing a heating or cooling effect. When the sensor is first activated, the mirror is clear. As the mirror surface temperature is cooled to the dew point temperature, condensations forms on the mirror. The electronics continuously tries to stabilize the signal levels to the power amplifier to maintain the mirror temperature at the dew point. If the dew point of the air changes or if the circuit is disturbed by noise, the loop makes the necessary corrections to restabilize at the dew point and maintaining continuous operation.

Edited note:

The NWS has replaced most if not all HO-83 chilled mirror sensors because of problems. NWS ASOS now use Vaisala's DTS1 sensor, which measures humidity only. ASOS then uses the ambient air temperature from the HO-83 and the humidity obtained from the DTS1 to determine dewpoint.

Older AWOS systems used a Lithium Chloride Dew Point sensor. Current AWOS systems use capacitive relative humidity sensors, from which Dew Point is calculated.http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ops2/Surface/documents/DewPoint0816.pdf

Altimeter and sea level pressure

The automated airport weather station pressure sensor is the most reliable and accurate of all the automated sensors.Fact|date=July 2008 The pressure sensor configuration consists of two separate pressure transducers. Each pressure transducer is a highly accurate pressure measurement instrument that uses advanced microcomputer-based electronics and firmware, resulting in 99.98% accuracy.Fact|date=July 2008 The capacitive sensors are located on a tray at the bottom of the computer cabinet and are permanently evacuated to a vacuum on one side to make each an absolute or barometric pressure sensor. The pressure sensors share a common 3/8-inch tygon sensor tube for sensing barometric pressure. Since the ambient barometric pressure is input to each pressure transducer through a shared tygon sensor tube, each pressure transducer receives the same barometric pressure input level. This configuration ensures reliable reporting of barometric pressure information. A transducer assembly internal to each unit converts the pressure level into an electrical signal level. This level is then monitored and translated by a microprocessor-based circuit within the pressure sensor to produce a barometric pressure value. During normal operation, the automated station reads the pressure value from each pressure transducer, compares the values to verify the accuracy of the measured data and calculates the barometric pressure.

Precipitation accumulation

The original precipitation accumulation measuring device used for automated airport weather stations was the heated tipping bucket. The upper portion of this device consists of a 1-foot diameter collector with an open top. The collector, which is heated to melt any frozen precipitation such as snow or hail, funnels water into a two-chamber, pivoting container called a bucket. Precipitation flows through the funnel into one compartment of the bucket until 0.01 inch of water (18.5 grams) is accumulated. That amount of weight causes the bucket to tip on its pivots, dumping the collected water and moving the other chamber under the funnel. The tipping motion activates a switch (either a reed switch or a mercury switch), which sends one electrical pulse for each 0.01 inch of precipitation collected.

Because of problems the heated tipping bucket has with properly measuring frozen precipitation (particularly snow), the All Weather Precipitation Accumulation Gauge (AWPAG) was developed. This sensor is essentially a weighing gauge where precipitation continuously accumulates within the collector, and as the weight increases, precipitation is recorded. Only select NWS ASOS units have been equipped with the AWPAG.

Icing (Freezing rain)

Automated airport weather stations report freezing rain via the resonant frequency of a vibrating rod. The resonant frequency decreases with increasing accretion (additional mass) of ice, hoarfrost, freezing fog, freezing drizzle, rime, or wet snow.

To report freezing rain, the system combines the sensor output from the freezing rain sensor with data from the LEDWI. The LEDWI must provide a positive indication of unknown precipitation or rain before the system can transmit a report of freezing rain. If the LEDWI reports either no precipitation or snow, the system will ignore the input from the freezing rain sensor. The sensor is designed to detect and report icing from all weather conditions.

Lightning (Thunderstorms)

Automated airport weather stations within the United States use the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) to detect lightning via the Automatic Lightning Detection and Reporting System (ALDARS). The NLDN uses 106 sensors nationwide to triangulate lightning strikes. Data from the detection grid is fed into ALDARS, which in turn sends messages to each automated airport station informing it of the proximity of any lightning strikes. Lightning strikes within 5 miles of the station result in a report of a thunderstorm "at" the station (TS). Lightning strikes more than 5 miles but less than 10 miles from the station result in a report of a thunderstorm "in the vicinity of" the station (VCTS). Lightning more than 10 miles but less than 30 miles from the station results only in a remark of "distant lightning" (LTG DSNT). Some AWOS systems now have their own lightning sensor to actually measure lightning strikes at the site rather than requiring an external service.

Data dissemination

Data dissemination is usually via an automated VHF airband radio frequency (118~136MHz) at each airport, broadcasting the automated weather observation. This is often via the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS). Most automated weather stations also have discrete phone numbers to retrieve real-time observations over the phone or through a modem.

In the United States, the AWOS/ASOS Data Acquisition System (ADAS), a computer system run by the FAA, polls the systems remotely, accessing the observations and disseminating them world-wide electronically in METAR format.

Limitations requiring human augmentation

At present, automated airport weather stations are unable to report a variety of meteorological conditions. These include:

* shallow or patchy fog
* blowing dust
* smoke
* falling ash
* volcanic eruptions
* tornadoes
* precipitation that is not in the form of rain or snow, such as hail, ice pellets and snow grains
* multiple forms of precipitation falling at the same time
* depth of new snowfall
* total snow depth
* in-cloud and cloud-to-cloud lightning
* clouds that are not directly above the station
* clouds that are more than twelve thousand feet above ground level
* cloud type

Because many of these can pose dangers to aircraft and all of these are of interest to the meteorological community, most of the busier airports also have part-time or full-time human observers which augment, or provide additional information to, the automated airport weather station's observations. Research is on-going to allow the automated stations to detect many of these phenomena.

Automated stations can also suffer from mechanical breakdown, requiring repair or replacement. This can be either due to physical damage (either natural or human caused), mechanical wear, or severe icing during winter weather. During system outages, human observers are often required to supplement missing or non-representative observations from the automated station. Research is also on-going to produce more robust systems which are less vulnerable to natural damage, mechanical wear and icing.

External links

* [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/asos/ Automated Surface Observing System] - NWS
* [http://dxinfocentre.com/airportinfo.htm Canada AWOS frequencies]
* [http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/esb/?goal=weather&file=obs/land/asos/ Social & Economic Benefits of ASOS] from "NOAA Socioeconomics" website initiative
* [http://www.mtechsystems.com/aviation-weather/awos-systems.html Example Commercial AWOS Supplier]


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