The National Weather Service’s project to replace the area forecast (FA) with digital-age interactive forecasting moved into a key phase April 13 when a graphical forecasting tool that has been available online as an experimental offering was upgraded to operational status.
In the next few months—as currently envisioned—several other changes will occur before the area forecast is retired for good, around next October.
The specialists won’t have access to the interactive graphical forecasts that pilots can view online because of bandwidth constraints. The static images are less data-dependent, so they will be the alternative for the briefers as well as pilots, operators, and dispatchers who have bandwidth-limited internet access. The static images are still under development. Comments on them may be submitted to the National Weather Service through April 30.
The retirement of the area forecasts will be preceded by formal notification from the National Weather Service.
Area forecasts for Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico will be unaffected by the changes, and will continue as text-based weather products.
The National Weather Service began the process of replacing the text-based area forecast—long a mainstay of pilot weather briefings but now seen as having limited value—in 2014.
The National Weather Service launched the project, which AOPA supports, at the behest of the FAA, which requested that the agency provide more detailed and accurate sources of flight planning weather information.