Southwest Airlines just unveiled plans to install climate sensors in its planes, essentially creating a new weather monitoring network in the air above our heads. So far 87 Boeing 737s have been equipped with Water Vapor Sensing Systems (WVSS-II) that keep track of humidity when the planes take off and land. The WVSS-II sensors will provide a flurry of new weather data, all of which will be collected in real-time.
The sensors were installed as the result of a collaboration between Aeronautical Radio Incorporated (ARINC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SpectraSensors. “The WVSS-II observations add a critical new piece of weather data to the forecasting puzzle,” says Jeannine Hendricks, ARINC’s manager for the program. “For the first time in aircraft operations, we are collecting water vapor data that measures the humidity in the air. This has the potential to revolutionize weather forecasting — especially when predicting thunderstorms — a significant weather occurrence for aviation.”
WVSS-II systems are currently used by both meteorologists and aviation forecasters to determine everything from fog formation to cloud ceilings. Apart from the increased amount of data, the ability to sample the moisture in the atmosphere and how levels change between two places will provide a new, and hopefully better way of forecasting weather patterns. If successful, the data is likely to help weather warnings go out even earlier than they already do, and it could possibly save you a few hours of delay in the airport.