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The weather is changing

Revamped to launch soon

In 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aviation Weather Center (AWC) website——averaged 130 million hits per day, which makes it arguably a very popular tool. The website has gained a following among aviators and meteorologists because it allows for a virtual review of any current or forecast weather condition in the United States. It is about to get an upgrade.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The AWC website is being revamped to improve the user experience, particularly for the growing number of those using primarily mobile phones or tablets to access the site. National Weather Service Aviation Weather Center staff explained that the forthcoming changes will streamline menus, make navigation more intuitive, and give mobile users tools to customize their browsing experience, much as they would have on a desktop computer or large screen display. “Years of customer feedback were incorporated into the effort,” said Jennifer Stroozas, warning coordination meteorologist at AWC.

The planned changes will require users to update their bookmarks. Though a login will no longer be needed for regular use, an account is required if pilots want to file pireps. The site has been restructured to combine all of the interactive maps and many individual products into one tool, creating a graphical forecast for aviators and providing weather information across U.S. airspace. With the Weather tab, users can access an interactive map that permits a vast array of customization by adding or subtracting layers such as ceiling and visibility, thunderstorms, or winds.

(Click on images below for slideshow and captions)

Using the Observations tab it's possible to check on pireps and sigmets, such as the tropical cyclone depicted on August 18. This layer shows ceiling and visibility and is customized to display airports, runways, and airspace, with a specific area picked for particulars. Users can draw a flight path using the Cross Section Tool. This image shows a flight path from Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland to San Francisco International Airport, with a layer displaying precipitation. After creating the path, the Cross Section Tool can be used to show variables including temperature (seen here), windspeed, clouds, turbulence, or icing en route.

One new feature is the Cross Section Tool, designed to provide information along a specific flight path. It allows users to draw a flight path on the map and then choose temperature, windspeed, clouds, turbulence, or icing to preview these conditions, using detailed graphics along the route. Weather information for a huge range of altitudes is available, and the timeline can be adjusted to reflect current or future conditions.

“Another important improved feature is the integration of the formerly separate Helicopter Emergency Medical Services [HEMS] tool into the main display,” Stroozas stated. “You can now easily access low altitude aviation hazard information by clicking on the helicopter icon in the main Graphical Forecasts for Aviation [GFA] tool.” AOPA, based on pilot feedback generated by surveys in 2021 and 2022, recommended this tool, and is pleased to see it included in the GFA.

Overall, the site presents a very clean and uncluttered look. The map fills the screen, and there are only three tabs with menu items specific to aviation weather forecasts—products such as METARs, TAFs, or pirep data, or tools like the Winter Weather Dashboard. For example, a click on the Weather tab offers a precipitation overlay showing current precipitation over the United States. A slider on the bottom allows the user to adjust the time from current to 13 hours ahead, and the pan and zoom features can be used to get a closer view of a specific area.

“One of my personal favorite new features is the ability to run the entire site in dark mode” said Stroozas.

A small menu on the right lets users control their preferences. Active layers can be turned on and off, for example, adding or hiding wind speeds or sigmets. It’s also where the Cross Section Tool can be found and where the map can be customized to reflect individual preferences. One of the options, for example, is to change the wind symbol from a barb to an arrow. In addition, the Map Options menu lets users depict airports, runways, airspace, and more—and, under Map Format, the time can be set.

Feel like playing around a bit? The beta is still up, so anyone can train themselves before the new and improved site goes live soon.

Sylvia Schneider Horne
Digital Media Editor
Sylvia Schneider Horne is a digital media editor for AOPA's eMedia division.
Topics: Weather

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