AOPA is urging members to review the National Weather Service (NWS) Alaska Region’s initial assessment of the state’s surface weather observing networks, and to comment by Aug. 15 on the impact of site classifications that could lead to many stations being closed.
The association will submit formal comments on the plan, and urges members to provide input to help identify those stations that are critical to aviation.
“Considering the minimal network of weather stations and information, we need to carefully review this plan to ensure critical infrastructure and stations are retained or replaced with automated stations,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization.
On March 15, AOPA reported on Williams’ letter to the FAA and NWS, urging the agencies to seek solutions in cooperation with users before shutting down weather stations in Alaska, where flight from visual into instrument meteorological conditions is the cause of many serious aviation accidents.
The NWS said in the assessment that the establishment of weather networks in Alaska has created a relative abundance of real-time weather availability in some areas and significant gaps in others.
“To address this issue, a Working Group on Aviation Weather Observations was formed that reviewed the NWS surface observing networks in the interest of optimizing our investments in this area,” the assessment’s introduction explained.
The assessment, titled Modernizing and Optimizing Our Surface Observing Networks, classified weather stations as either mission critical (and to be automated for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage) or supplemental.(to be closed). Those designations were the result of analyzing “input from our partners in state and federal government, specific user communities like pilots and mariners, and the general public,” NWS said.
Deemed mission critical were the following sites: Big River Lakes (already closed with efforts under way to get automated station in the area), Chulitna River, Elfin Cove, McCarthy, Port Alexander, Port Alsworth, Puntilla, Skwentna, Whittier (where an automated station is already installed).
Deemed supplemental, and suggested for closing were these locations: Cantwell, Central, Healy, Sheep Mountain, Snowshoe Lake, Sutton, Willow.
Several locations were identified as priority gaps, where NWS plans to investigate the installation of automated observing systems. They included these sites:
Trading Bay (to fill a gap on west side of Cook Inlet), Clarence Strait - Grindall Island, Chatham Strait - Point Gardner, Sumner Strait - Point Baker/Sumner Island, Nord Island (Barren Islands) , Cooper Landing, Diomede, St. Matthew Island, Glacier Bay - Lone Island, Cape Sarichef, Cape Chacon, and to relocate Point Bishop Station to Grand Island.