Assessment of the aviation weather center global forecasts of mesoscale convective systems

Baruch Ziv, Yoav Yair, Karin Presman, Martin Füllekrug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the precision of location and top height of mesoscale convective systems, as forecast by the Aviation Weather Center (AWC). The examination was motivated by the Mediterranean Israeli Dust Experiment (MEIDEX) on the space shuttle Columbia, aimed to image transient luminous events (TLEs), such as sprites, jets, and elves, from orbit. Mesoscale convective systems offer a high probability for the occurrence of TLEs above active thunderstorms. Because the operational methodology was planned around a 24-h cycle, there was a need for a global forecast of areas with a high probability of massive thunderstorms that are prone to exhibit TLE activity. The forecast was based on the high-level significant weather (SIGWX) maps, commonly used for civil aviation, provided by the AWC on the Internet. To estimate the operational skill of this forecast for successfully detecting clouds with a high probability for producing TLEs, predictions for selected dates were compared with satellite observations. The locations of 66 mesoscale cloud systems on Significant Weather Maps, produced for eight different dates in August 2001, were compared with satellite global IR images for these dates. Operational skill was determined as the percentage of observed cloud systems found within a 5° range in the regions that appeared on the forecast maps as having the potential to contain thunderclouds and was found to be 92%. No consistent error was found in location. The predicted size of the convective system was typically larger than the observed size. Cloud-top heights of 53 systems were examined on four dates in October-November 2001, using IR radiances converted to brightness temperatures. For each convective system, the coldest cloud-top temperature was converted to height, using the NCEP-NCAR reanalysis data for the respective location and time. The standard error in the forecast heights was 2516 m. Because the purpose was to get true alerts of potential TLE occurrences, operational forecast skill was defined as the percentage of forecasts that were accurate within 1000 m or higher than observed. The 1000-m tolerance was allowed because of inevitable uncertainties underlying this method of analysis. Operational skill was found to be only 43%. During the "STS-107" mission flown in January 2003, the forecasted areas of main convective centers were transmitted daily to the crew and helped them in pointing the cameras and targeting thunderstorms. This ensured the success of the MEIDEX sprite observations that recorded numerous events in many different geographical locations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-726
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004


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