Scenario: So, this morning, you checked the weather forecasts for LAX and JFK and all’s clear. You leave your last meeting, head right to the airport and find…a four hour weather delay. WHAT??
A line of thunderstorms developed in western Pennsylvania slowed the flow of planes into the Northeast. Your flight is rerouted around the thunderstorms by flying over Atlanta to the Northeast. This means farther distance (remember Great Circle Routes), less favorable winds (jet streams are farther north in thunderstorm season), and fitting your flight into the heavy Florida to Northeast traffic flow. This all adds up to lengthy delays even though destination weather is good.
I’m Chief Forecaster-Surface Meteorology and it’s my job to keep Delta’s Operational Control Center aware of any weather problems. Delta and Northwest are the only airlines to have in-house forecasters. Safety is our number one concern.
We make forecasts based on computer models that run on some of the fastest computers in the world at the National Weather Service. (It still takes four hours to run our best model.) We get the model forecast and interpret the results and communicate how the weather affects the operation.
The models are great for large scale winter storms. Not as good on air mass thunderstorm. For tropical systems, they run special models since these are only fair for the physics of the tropics. Our forecasts have improved tremendously as the computers become faster, enough to run the better models. And that should help you next time to get to your destination.
Chief Forecaster – Surface Meteorology