Airport Weather Observations (METARs) for Winter Storm Jonas

20160124cpy.. Winter Storm Jonas snow depth map (WeatherChannel)A storm for the record books, Jonas is also understood to be an indication of storms to come. And, it is not a stretch to understand the cause and effect – the link between these extreme weather events and our energy consumption habits:

  • excessive fossil fuel consumption, causes…
    • …excessive greenhouse gas accumulation, causes…
      • …geologically rapid and substantial temperature increases, causes…
        •  …a more energized weather system, with more heat energy and larger amounts of water vapor, causes…
          • …more violently-interacting air masses (hence, intensified weather).

So, in the course of just a few human generations, we are literally destroying the habitability of our waters and our air. And aviation is very much at the heart of this problem. Not only is aviation arguably the poster-child of excessive and arbitrary energy consumption, but this industry also relies heavily on fossil fuel consumption (and it does us no real benefit to take food crops out of production to grow biofuels for aviation!). Thus, our best political leaders (if we have any?!) will take note: aviation is perhaps the most logical first target within the transportation sector, for meaningful action to address our growing problem of excessive atmospheric CO2.

Weather & Aviation

Aviation safety has always depended on accurate and detailed weather predictions and observations. The international system for recording weather observations is METAR. METAR observations are recorded at least once per hour at most U.S. airports, and more frequently when conditions are changing or marginal. Although the intricate coding may feel a bit ‘geeky’, it is not difficult to learn to read METARs; see Reference Materials for Decoding METARs.

July 22, 2013: Dangerous crosswinds and tailwinds contributed to this high-speed landing and nose gear collapse for a Southwest KLGA arrival.

METARs are also an excellent resource to use, to help predict the flow configurations and thus the likely impacts on your home or community, as caused by your local airport. ATC constantly refers to METARs to make runway change decisions. In most cases, ATC selects a runway configuration that is aligned into the wind, to maximize safety. At some of the most congested airports though (LGA and JFK come to mind), FAA’s failure to stop excessive airline scheduling has created barriers to runway changes, and has thus created unsafe landing conditions. These conditions have contributed to incidents, sometimes with injuries or worse. One example: the July 22, 2013 crash of Southwest Flight #345 while landing at La Guardia.

DIY: Viewing METARs Online

Most of the larger snow-impacted airports include snowfall and accumulated snow depth in their METAR observations. The METAR observations, recorded 3-times per hour during most of this weather event, offer a fascinating and precise insight into the weather severity.

Here is a summary of snowfall totals and snow history for the ten largest commercial service airports, listed from north to south. For each airport, three blue links include the aiREFORM airport page, the current METAR (showing the last 168 observations), and the NOAA forecast:

[KBOS] — Boston-Logan Airport
Snowfall first reported at 1:54pm Saturday, ended 11-hours later at 12:04am Sunday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 35 gusting to 45.METARForecast
[KPVD] — Providence Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:30pm Saturday, ended 10-hours later at 10:16pm Saturday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 29 gusting to 38.METARForecast
[KISP] — Long Island / Islip Airport
Snowfall first reported at 11:56pm Friday, ended 29-hours later at 4:56am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 23-inches. Peak winds 36 gusting to 52.METARForecast
[KLGA] — LaGuardia Airport
Snowfall first reported at 10:30pm Friday, ended 28-hours later at 2:45am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 28-inches. Peak winds 32 gusting to 48.METARForecast
[KJFK] — JFK Airport
Snowfall first reported at 9:49pm Friday, ended 27-hours later at 2:51am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 30-inches. Peak winds 33 gusting to 46.METARForecast
[KEWR] — Newark Airport
Snowfall first reported at 9:28pm Friday, ended 29-hours later at 2:51am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 21-inches. Peak winds 30 gusting to 39.METARForecast
[KPHL] — Philadelpia Airport
Snowfall first reported at 6:34pm Friday, ended 28-hours later at 10:19pm Saturday. Snow Depth not recorded. Peak winds 31 gusting to 49.METARForecast
[BWI] — Baltimore-Washington Airport
Snowfall first reported at 1:38pm Friday, ended 35-hours later at 12:54am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 27-inches. Peak winds 23 gusting to 37.METARForecast
[KIAD] — Washington-Dulles Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:52pm Friday, ended 35-hours later at 11:52pm Saturday. Snow Depth reached 23-inches. Peak winds 28 gusting to 46.METARForecast
[KDCA] — Washington-Reagan Airport
Snowfall first reported at 12:59pm Friday, ended 36-hours later at 12:52 am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 18-inches. Peak winds 29 gusting to 43.METARForecast

And, here is a compilation of the METARs for all ten airports, converted into a scrollable PDF file:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Next Up: The Melting

The initial snowfall and winds are just Part One of this weather event. Part Two will soon play out, as the accumulated snowfall melts and eventually flows away. Depending on how much (and how quickly) temperatures warm up, and how much rain falls onto the accumulated snow, there may be local flooding, ponding, and other problems. Airport conditions could remain untenable for many days.

See also:

Weather Data for the Extreme Rainfall Event at Islip [KISP], 8-13-2014

Wednesday morning brought record rainfall amounts to much of the northeastern U.S. The one major commercial airport most at the center of the event was at Islip, NY, at the Long Island MacArthur Airport [KISP].

20140813.. Rain event flooding Sunrise Highway near Rte-111 [KISP]

People look on as a car remains flooded on Sunrise Highway at Route 111 following heavy rains and flash flooding Aug. 13, 2014 in Islip, N.Y. (Andrew Theodorakis/Getty Images)

The weather records are copied below, from the NWS website. Red text has been added to highlight weather likely to significantly delay (or even fully stop) commercial aviation operations. This includes strong gusting winds (e.g., 21G31 means a 21 knot windspeed with gusts to 31 knots), low visibilities (below a mile), heavy rain (+RA), fog (FG), mist (BR), and of course heavy rainfall rates.

The rainfall amounts are nothing short of astounding. The table shows that weather observations were recorded typically four times per hour, and there are many records showing rain falling at rates of more than three inches per hour, and a peak rate of 5.34 inches per hour!

time EDT temp dew wind-dir knots VSBY weather clouds altimeter hr rain
12:56 am 71 64 SE 21G31 7.00 -RA FEW095 BKN110 29.90 0.03
1:56 am 68 62 SE 13 5.00 RA FEW029 BKN100 OVC120 29.88 0.13
2:51 am 66 63 E 7 2.50 VCTS +RA BR SCT034 BKN075 OVC100 29.85 0.23
2:56 am 66 63 E 9 2.00 VCTS +RA BR BKN034 BKN055 OVC090 29.84 0.35
3:11 am 66 63 ENE 13 2.50 +RA BR FEW019 BKN035 OVC048 29.80 0.19
3:20 am 66 64 ENE 13G20 4.00 +RA BR FEW021 OVC037 29.80 0.25
3:34 am 66 64 ENE 15G21 3.00 +RA BR BKN016 BKN026 OVC039 29.77 0.32
3:38 am 68 64 ENE 15 2.50 +RA BR FEW006 BKN016 OVC036 29.77 0.36
3:54 am 70 66 NE 16G25 3.00 +RA BR FEW008 BKN014 OVC031 29.74 0.52
3:56 am 69 67 NE 20G25 3.00 +RA BR SCT008 BKN014 OVC031 29.74 0.54
4:19 am 70 66 VRBL 5 4.00 +RA BR BKN006 OVC017 29.74 0.10
4:38 am 70 66 NNE 21G25 2.50 +RA BR OVC006 29.72 0.35
4:53 am 68 66 N 17G26 1.50 +RA BR OVC010 29.73 0.70
4:56 am 68 66 N 15G25 1.25 +RA BR OVC010 29.73 0.84
5:08 am 68 66 NE 9G21 0.75 +RA BR SCT005 OVC010 29.76 0.67
5:16 am 66 66 N 20G30 0.50 +RA FG BKN005 OVC010 29.74 1.44
5:26 am 68 66 N 24G33 0.50 +RA FG VV006 29.71 2.31
5:39 am 70 68 E 10G44 0.50 +RA FG VV005 29.75 3.53
5:56 am 68 67 NNE 17 0.50 +RA FG VV006 29.73 5.34
6:13 am 68 66 NNW 13G23 0.50 +RA FG VV007 29.75 1.33
6:35 am 68 66 NNE 13 0.75 +RA BR VV009 29.73 3.12
6:47 am 68 68 E 9 0.50 +RA FG VV011 29.72 3.84
6:56 am 69 68 E 6 0.50 +RA FG VV012 29.72 4.37
7:31 am 70 68 NNE 8 0.75 +RA BR FEW004 BKN009 OVC021 29.70 1.21
7:43 am 70 68 NE 12G28 2.50 -RA BR OVC007 29.69 1.47
7:56 am 71 69 ESE 16G30 9.00   OVC007 29.69 1.48
8:04 am 72 70 SE 18G36 8.00   SCT007 BKN012 OVC023 29.68  
8:56 am 72 69 SSE 23G35 4.00 -RA BR BKN010 OVC023 29.68 0.01
9:12 am 72 70 SSE 12G43 0.50 +RA FG BKN010 OVC023 29.68 0.05
9:19 am 73 70 SSE 17G28 0.50 -RA BR BKN008 BKN012 OVC023 29.67 0.15
9:56 am 73 70 SSE 28G36 5.00 -RA BR BKN008 BKN012 OVC023 29.68 0.15

If severe weather events like this are becoming more frequent, and if this trend continues, how might his impact aviation? Do we need to take serious action, to change our high-consumption lifestyles and economies? If we continue to do nothing, what will our grandchildren face?