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NOAA Provides Forecasts for World’s Largest Balloon Festival
using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual hot air balloon festival that takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the course of nine days in early October. The event attracts over 500 hot air balloons and over 800,000 attendees each year, making it the largest balloon festival in the world. The 2019 Fiesta is scheduled from October 5-13. During this time, the NOAA Air Resources Lab, UAS Program Office, National Weather Service, and Aircraft Operations Center UAS Section are partnering to provide forecasts for the balloon pilots using a small UAS.
Albuquerque’s cool October morning temperatures help create what’s known as the Albuquerque Box. The “box” is a set of predictable wind patterns that can be used to navigate the balloons at low altitudes. The winds will be from the south at low altitudes, but at higher altitudes they tend to be from the north. Balloonists use these beneficial winds to navigate in a vertical box, taking off and landing in almost exactly the same spot. Balloon pilots do not have a way to steer their hot air balloons, but they can control where the balloon flies vertically by heating the air in the balloon or letting air out.
Forecasting in Albuquerque during the Balloon Fiesta means focusing on certain weather conditions, beginning with trying to determine if the Albuquerque Box will form each morning of the nine-day event. Forecasters need to look for a temperature inversion with cooler air at the surface and warmer air above, as well as for vertical change in the wind direction with height. Ideally, surface winds will be blowing south and winds aloft will be blowing from the north. The third condition meteorologists are looking for is lower humidity and lower dew points. This will increase the chance that the Albuquerque Box will develop. Forecasters as well as balloon pilots need to keep in mind that this combination does not happen often to create the Albuquerque Box.
Ed Dumas (left), ATDD pilot, with Mark Rogers and Nicole Chappell of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, Aircraft Operations Center flight check the Meteomatics Meteodrone
The NOAA UAS team will provide meteorological measurements of temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction from the Earth’s surface to 400 meters above ground level using NOAA’s Meteomatics Meteodrone. Information from these flights will be provided to forecasters every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day. The Meteodrone will provide more information more frequently which will improve the timeliness of the forecasts and quickly identify the onset of the elusive Albuquerque Box.
NOAA/OAR/ARL receives permission to perform daily vertical profiles up to 1 Km for
Winds, Temperature and Moisture Fields using Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS)
The FAA has granted a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to fly sUAS up to 1 km to perform vertical atmospheric measurements of winds, temperature, and relative humidity starting August 1, 2019 to August 1, 2021. These vertical profiles will take place near Oak Ridge, TN with 3-4 flights per hour every 3-4 days per week up to a kilometer to measure the changing state of the atmosphere. This field campaign will be used to support efforts to validate and improve existing operational mesoscale models, e.g. the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) and provide the local Weather Forecasting Office (WFO) in Morristown, TN real-time sUAS observations to assist in their day-to-day forecast operations.
On 1 August 2019, Ed Dumas, Temple Lee, Michael Buban, Tom Wood, and Brittany Jenio performed two flights with the Meteomatics SSE small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS). The flights occurred at the Oliver Springs airport, located approximately four miles northwest of the ATDD lab. The meteorological conditions were warm and moist under overcast skies with light winds. The first flight, at 15:21 local time, reached a maximum altitude of 650 m (2133 ft) above ground level (AGL), and the second flight about fifteen minutes later reached 708 m (2323 ft) AGL. Plots of temperature, moisture, and wind from these flights are shown below. Attempts were also made to fly the BlackSwift Technologies S2, a fixed-wing sUAS with a 10-ft wingspan, but were aborted due a malfunctioning launcher.
Click on images for enlarged versions
Photo of Meteodrone used in test flights
Summer intern Brittany Jenio
prepares groundstation to monitor drone
Ed and Tom trying to diagnose launch failure
NOAA Scientists and Engineers Conduct sUAS Test in Florida
On March 4-6, a team of nine NOAA scientists and engineers gathered at Avon Park, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) test range north of Sebring, Florida, to conduct first-of-a-kind tests on two small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The team consisted of personnel from the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO), and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Aircraft Operations Center (AOC). The two sUASs being tested were recently acquired by ATDD. They are a Meteomatics Meteodrone Severe Storms Edition (SSE), which performs vertical takeoffs and landings, and a BlackSwift Technologies S2 fixed-wing aircraft similar in design to an airplane.
The tests were very successful. Over the three-day testing period, the team performed over a dozen flights with the Meteodrone and six flights with the S2. The Meteodrone was flown up to a maximum altitude of 950 m above ground level (AGL), whereas the S2 reached 1200 m AGL during one of its flights. A ground-based radar system, integrated with geospatial software, was deployed in an attempt to determine its capability to mitigate potential threats to these sUASs by targets within the airspace (e.g., traditional airplanes, other sUASs, hot air balloons, birds, etc.). During all tests, the ground-based radar system detected both the Meteodrone and S2, as well as other air traffic in the area. To further evaluate the ground-based radar system, on 5 March a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft performed multiple flyovers of the site, and the ground-based radar system detected this aircraft as well. Additionally, Meteodrone data were used to generate analyses of temperature, moisture, and wind fields in near real-time using the Meteomatics software package.
Since Avon Park is a USAF bombing range which NOAA AOC has utilized to test both full-size and drone systems in the past, its airspace is not subject to the same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions imposed on the national airspace system. The relaxed limitations enabled the team to fly both aircraft to their respective maximum flight altitudes. Knowing each aircraft’s upper limit and the point at which the operator would lose visual line of sight were key to performing safer, higher flights in the future. Essentially, this exercise enabled the team to measure the same kind of parameters used by air traffic controllers.
Taking measurements of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and pressure (collectively known as vertical profiles) with a copter and fixed-wing aircraft at such a high altitude hasn’t been done before, so scientists were unsure what to expect. Historical data is sparse, so there has always been a large gap in knowing what is happening with the thermodynamics and kinematics of the atmosphere (e.g. the transformations responsible for weather and climate). Flying the sUASs to higher altitudes enables scientists to design increasingly useful experiments to study the boundary layer – the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere where we live, where weather occurs, and where ARL focuses its research.
NOAA’s AOC and UASPO are working to obtain Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly up to 10,000 ft. Once COAs are obtained, both of ATDD’s sUASs will be used for vertical profile sampling within the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere. Higher altitude, more frequent measurements will greatly enhance operational weather forecasting by the National Weather Service (NWS) through analysis of the observations, and inclusion of the data into numerical weather prediction models. These data will also help refine future field intensive studies of the boundary layer. The test at Avon Park paves the way toward eventually having autonomous vertical profiles occurring any time of the day in different locations around the U.S. Currently, there are only about 100 National Weather Service weather forecast offices in the U.S. that perform vertical profiling. They all utilize weather balloons for this twice-daily analysis. ATDD plans to start working with its closest forecast office, in Morristown, Tennessee, to determine how more frequent, more localized vertical profiles help improve forecasting. ATDD is also continuing to assess new technologies and instrumentation capable of utilization by sUASs.
Left to right: Ed Dumas (ATDD), Mo Swanson (Echodyne), Lt. Casey Marwine (NOAA Corp), Michael Buban (ATDD),
Bruce Baker (ATDD), Temple Lee (ATDD), John Neuhaus (OMAO AOC), Philip Hall (UAS Program Office),
Chris Amaral (Kongsberg Geospatial), Mark Rogers (OMAO AOC), Nicole Chappell (OMAO AOC)
Photo: Michael Potter (ATDD)
NOAA Twin Otter photo by Kip Evan
ATDD Scientists Participate in Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union
The 2018 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) was held December 10-14 in Washington, DC. Three ATDD scientists participated in oral and poster sessions, as well as workshops during the event.
- Dr. Praveena Krishnan (pictured in the photo above) presented a paper entitled Airborne Hyperspectral Imaging to Estimate Vegetation Indices during the Land – Atmosphere Feedback Experiment by Krishnan, P., T. Lee, M. Buban, E. J. Dumas, T. P. Meyers, B. Baker, and S. Brooks in the session: A14A Advances in Optical Remote Sensing of the Atmosphere and Surface II. Dr. Krishnan presented results on the estimation of vegetation indices using airborne hyperspectral imaging and its comparison with those estimated using airborne multispectral data and tower-based radiation measurements carried out during the Land-Atmosphere Feedback Experiment (LAFE) in August 2017.
- Dr. LaToya Myles presented a poster entitled Measurements of Nitrogen And Carbon Fluxes Over Coastal Salt Marsh Ecosystem In The Northeastern U.S. Using Eddy Covariance Systems by N. Lichiheb, M. Heuer, R. Vargas, A. Vazquez Lule, K. St. Laurent, D. Senn, S. Klemenz, C. Hahn, R. Saylor, and Myles in the session B21L: Centennial Challenge: The Bioatmospheric Nitrogen Cycle—Nitrogen Emissions, Transformations, Deposition, and Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystem Impacts. The poster described summer 2018 measurements of ammonia, nitric acid, nitrate, and ammonium exchange over a tidal salt marsh at the St. Jones Reserve, which is part of NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs).
- LaToya Myles also gave an oral presentation entitled Creating and Connecting Champions for Diversity in the Geosciences: Hearts of GOLD by P.G. Dixon, C. Brinkworth, E. Kaufman, K. Quardokus Fisher, D. Simmons, and Myles in the session ED44A: Strategies for More Inclusive Practices Across the Geological Sciences. The talk shared results from the 2017 and 2018 GOLD Institutes, professional development workshops designed to support champions for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the geosciences.
- As a member of the AGU Honors and Recognition Committee, LaToya Myles participated in several H&R events aimed at recognizing scientific achievement and excellence at all levels, through AGU Fellows, medals, awards, and prizes.
- Dr. Myles was also featured as a “Scientist-in-Booth” at the NOAA exhibit, where she engaged with meeting attendees and fielded questions about NOAA science.
- Dr. John Kochendorfer presented results of recent testing of a relative humidity probe both at the NOAA booth and in an oral session on evapotranspiration measurements. The field evaluation of the low cost, fast response humidity probe has demonstrated that the probe can be used to record eddy covariance measurements of water vapor. The long-term goal of the work is to integrate the probe into a fixed wing unmanned aerial system used to measure the exchange of water vapor between the land surface and the atmosphere.
Some of the AGU Attendees
(Dr. Myles is on the right)
Dr. John Kochendorfer presenting
Hurricane Lane in Hawaii and the US Climate Reference Network (USCRN)
Hurricane Lane brought record rains to the Big Island of Hawaii that was observed by two USCRN stations one located on the wet side of the Big Island in Hilo, and on the other one on dry side of the island up on the mountain at Mauna Loa (co-located with the OAR/ESRL Observatory). The 4-day rainfall total from August 22-25 was 47.59 inches, and that amount classified this event as a 500-year event. The current monthly total for August 2018 at the Hilo station through the end of August 27th, is 63.50 inches, and that total now sets a new all-time 30-day record for the entire USCRN network of 63.46 inches that was set at this same Hilo station in Jan/Feb 2008. The Hilo station received national media coverage during the event.
The USCRN station at Mauna Loa also set an all-time record for rainfall at that site since it has been in operation since 2005, with a monthly total so far of 11.98 inches; breaking the former all-time record of 9.68 inches set in December 2016. The all-time rainfall records set at both the Mauna Loa and Hilo USCRN stations speaks to the significant environmental event that Hurricane Lane was, and the value of NOAA’s USCRN to capture this climatologically significant event. – Howard Diamond, 301-427-2475.
Image of Hurricane Lane taken from the GOES-15 satellite. The storm is approximately
300 miles south of the “Big Island” at 2 p.m. ET on August 22, 2018.
Map showing location of the site on the “Big Island”
Eclipse Data May Fine-Tune Weather Forecasts
The article “Great American Eclipse Data May Fine-Tune Weather Forecasts” by Temple Lee, Michael Buban, Michael Palecki, Ronald Leeper, Howard Diamond, Edward Dumas, Tilden Meyers, and Bruce Baker was published online on 16 August in Eos at https://eos.org/project-updates/great-american-eclipse-data-may-fine-tune-weather-forecasts. In the article, the rapid near-surface meteorological changes that accompanied the total solar eclipse on 21 August 2017 are described. To characterize these changes, 5-min data from the US Climate Reference Network (USCRN) and flux observations from a site along the path of totality were obtained near Ten Mile, Tennessee, located approximately 75 km southwest of Knoxville. Depending on the proximity of the USCRN station to the path of eclipse totality, temperature decreases ranging from 2-5ºC were observed, as were increases in moisture. These findings demonstrate the sensitivity of the lower atmosphere to a loss of solar energy and highlight the necessity of high temporal resolution, quality-controlled climate observation datasets at the continental scale. For more information contact Temple.Lee@noaa.gov.
Read a related ATDD article here.