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FAA to extract visibility from weathercams through crowd sourcing: looking for Alaskan volunteers

Since its inception the FAA Weather Camera Program has provided Alaska pilots with a valuable tool, helping us make critical go/no go decisions.  Today, FAA is looking to squeeze more information out of the system by estimating visibility from the images.  To conduct a demonstration project, they are looking for 40 weather camera users—pilots, dispatchers or other users, to make visibility estimates based on web camera images.  If you are willing to help advance this effort, consider participating in a short training session, and signing up to help.

The FAA Weather Camera Program has provided supplementary weather information to pilots in Alaska for 25 years.

Background:
A weather camera system for aviation use was first demonstrated as part of a PhD graduate student’s program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in April, 1996—in what was supposed to be a six month operational demonstration at three locations.  It proved so popular that FAA took over those sites, and has continued to add camera locations, now operating some 230 sites across Alaska. More recently FAA is installing cameras in Hawaii and Colorado and is hosting third-party camera data from more locations, including in Canada.

Breaking new ground:
A new phase of the program is underway today—to extract additional, more quantifiable information from the camera sensors.  Earlier this year pilots were asked to evaluate visibility data derived from image processing of weather camera images.  Now, the FAA is looking for volunteers to explore a crowd-sourcing approach to estimating visibility.  If you are a pilot, dispatcher, or other FAA weather camera user, and would be willing to spend two hours a week over the course of a few weeks, consider signing up to help FAA explore this means of collecting weather camera data.  You will be asked to look at weather camera images and estimate the visibility based on what you see in the image. Scheduling is flexible and a one-hour online training session provides the background you need to participate.  The project is expected to run between two and four weeks in duration. Your participation would help advance our understanding of how to extract more value from the weather camera system.

To access the presentation:

FAA ZoomGov Meeting.
Optional ways to join are:

Click to Join:
https://faavideo.zoomgov.com/j/16130653524
• Passcode: 642640
• If prompted, accept the Zoom application as instructed.

Mobile Device:
• Download the ‘Zoom Cloud Meetings’ App.
• Select ‘Join a Meeting’ and enter Meeting ID: 161 3065 3524
• Passcode: 642640

Phone Audio Only:
• Call 1-888-924-3239; enter Meeting ID: 161 3065 3524
• Passcode: 642640
• Unmute or mute yourself by pressing *6.

How to help:
Please consider helping to explore this use of the FAA Weather Camera data by volunteering some of your time and expertise. Participate in the virtual training session shown above.  Send an email with your contact information (email address and phone number) to: [email protected] or [email protected] who will respond with additional information regarding the project and how to schedule your participation.

Upgraded weather web tools for Alaska pilots

Our ability to access weather data for pilots in Alaska continues to evolve.  Recently both the National Weather Service and the FAA have released new operational versions of their websites for Alaska weather.  They are both well worth a closer look.

Alaska Aviation Weather Unit’s New Look
For years the NWS Alaska Aviation Weather Unit (AAWU) has provided an excellent website with a combination of current and forecast weather products specifically for Alaska aviators.  It just got a new look, to increase security and migrate to a nationally supported server. While you will recognize most of the products, the home page has a different look, and increased functionality.

The main page on the new AAWU site has controls to toggle Airmets, TAFs and/or PIREPs.

The home page uses a new base map, and offers increased functionality without having to dig into the menu structure.  Not only is it a zoomable map base, but one can now toggle on (and off) Airmets, Terminal Area Forecasts and/or display PIREPs.  TAFs sites are color coded by weather category. You may also display and filter pilot reports, to look up to 24 hours into the past for trend information. New features to watch for include adding METARs to the user choices on the front page, and updated winds aloft graphics. Also explore the tiled quick links at the bottom of the homepage.

In this screen shot above, PIREPs for the past three hours are displayed. They also include a text list of the PIREPs for the selected time block at the bottom of the page, in case you want to browse them in that form.

The old site will continue to run in parallel with the new site until June 20, 2017, but start using the new site today at: weather.gov/aawu.  As with any site that is developing, you may need to let the National Weather Service know if you have problems, or questions.  Direct those to: [email protected].

New FAA Weather Camera site goes operational
By all accounts, the Aviation Weather Camera Program is the most popular thing the FAA has done in many years.  After months of development and testing, it too has a new look, web address and loads of new functionality.  Thanks to many of you who participated in the recent beta-testing activity, the FAA made significant upgrades and declared the new site operational as of May 1st.

More current and forecast weather information has been added to the site.

While the FAA will continue to operate the old site in parallel for a while, you should note the new address:  avcamsplus.faa.gov. The major changes have to do with the presentation of current and forecast weather in graphic form, on the map page.  If zoomed in far enough, airports that have reported weather and terminal area forecasts will give reveal conditions at a glance, before even selecting and reading the full text reports.

METARs, TAFs and PIREPs are visually presented, with an idea of the trend presented graphically.

Other new features include an increased selection of base maps to choose from, including Sectionals, IFR charts or a terrain enhanced display.  Note, however, that several the menu selection choices are not active. There is more development ahead, making it very important that you remember to take the Pilot Survey that is linked from the hope page. Also note that this version of the program is not optimized for tablets or smart phones. Those devices are to be incorporated in future releases.

Exercise them!
Both of the NWS and FAA tools are coming out just as the flying season ramps up. Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them before taking off this summer. And keep your comments rolling in to drive improvements in the months ahead!