It’s one thing to know the forecast and another to understand the weather’s impacts on a specific airport’s operations, crews, and logistics. That was a reoccurring theme of conversations at the AAAE/Northeast Chapter AAAE Hub Airports Winter Operations and Deicing Conference in Dallas, where the agenda centered on FAA compliance and regulatory action updates, weather forecasts, and centralized deicing facilities.
As an invited speaker, DTN presented on “Climate Change and the Impacts on Weather Forecasting,” focusing on immediate impacts and longer-term weather changes.
This summer, airports have felt the heat from increasingly extreme high temperatures — creating crew safety, runway integrity, and take-off concerns. We expect weather volatility to continue long-term, with a weakened jet stream potentially disrupting winter airport operations in many parts of the country.
The weakened jet stream could result in a higher frequency of polar vortex “wobbles,” bringing additional shots of cold temperatures into the southern United States, as it did in February 2021. Further discussions and questions centered on the potential operational impacts and how airport decision-makers could better plan and prepare for these likely scenarios, highlighting the need for greater operational intelligence.
A weak polar vortex has the potential to bring cold air into the southern United States this winter.
At the conference, the DTN team spoke with leading airport operators from across the country to better understand their current weather-resiliency challenges. Here are their top concerns and how DTN can support critical decisions related to those issues.
The need for greater preparedness
With winter storms, thunderstorms, and hurricanes becoming more frequent and severe, airports must often take an all-hands-on-deck approach to manage an event’s impacts. That requires more time to prepare and coordinate operations to help minimize potential safety risks, flight delays and cancellations, and asset damage.
With winter storms, thunderstorms, and hurricanes becoming more frequent and severe, airports must often take an all-hands-on-deck approach to manage an event’s impacts.
In such situations, a single source for accurate insights is vital to avoid conflicting information that leads to decision dead zones. DTN Risk Communicator supports advanced critical decisions before, during, and after a significant weather event. The service, delivered by a skilled meteorologist with industry-specific expertise, includes high-value hyperlocal forecasts, weather impact and forecast confidence level details, and regular communications with airport stakeholders to support all levels of operations. This enables decision-makers to effectively manage expectations and create and implement preparedness plans that drive appropriate actions.
Managing staff shortages and safety
Since COVID-19, many U.S. airport operations teams say they’re understaffed: either being short on the number of workers needed or filling long-empty positions with those new to the field. Both situations make timely, precise forecast insights essential for optimal scheduling and resource decisions, which can help ensure smoother, more efficient operations around weather risks.
Since COVID-19, many U.S. airport operations teams say they’re understaffed: either being short on the number of workers needed or filling long-empty positions with those new to the field.
Safety is key for ground crews working in extreme temperatures, particularly polar vortex-driven cold snaps. Detailed, site-specific hourly forecasts can help ensure they’ll have the proper attire and resources for the situation while on the job. Beyond runway maintenance decisions, DTN pavement forecasts can help airport operations managers determine if employees can safely commute to and from home or if they should hold over at the airport.
Significant winter weather events can also amplify delays and diversions, leading to hefty losses. Short-staffed and inexperienced operations teams may understandably take longer to clear off runways to keep tarmac traffic moving seamlessly. The associated overtime costs and long shift rotations also have financial impacts on airports, making proactive, targeted decisions invaluable.
Minimizing the financial costs of bad weather
Bad weather is always an issue for flights, but conference-goers are concerned about more frequent weather disruptions. Beyond standard summer thunderstorms, airport operators are experiencing more extreme heat, wildfires, and turbulence.
Better-informed weather decisions support smoother operations, potentially reduce chemical use and provide cost savings.
In winter, storms are grounding operations more often and for longer periods. While forecasting snow or ice accumulation on pavements is a common challenge for airports across the country, it’s a newer concern for southern states, where the impacts are often more significant. Once again, a DTN Risk Communicator can provide expert guidance leading up to, throughout, and following an event, including customized pavement and subsurface temperature forecasts for runways using the latest modeling technology. Better-informed weather decisions support smoother operations, potentially reduce chemical use and provide cost savings. Recommendations based on an airport’s available chemicals, staffing numbers, and operational vehicles can help managers determine the most optimal treatment plan.
Tech and AI support confident decisions
One of the most interesting conversations was about how new technology and advanced data science can support better airport operations. This exciting confluence of meteorology and sophisticated modeling, including AI and machine learning, can help create more confident decisions around growing weather impacts.
Potential enhancements include:
- Better and faster forecast outputs by using AI and machine learning to process historical data and current weather conditions
- Supporting confident decisions with data-driven insights from one reliable and trusted source
- Airport-specific forecast notifications — and even action plans — using an individual operation’s specific thresholds of concern
- Better levels of safety and efficiency, supported by Operational Intelligence that integrates weather and industry-specific data streams
As a speaker and DTN Risk Communicator, it was a pleasure to visit with so many airport operators during the conference and receive positive feedback from our customers in attendance. If you’d like to learn more about our solutions, please visit our airports page.
Explore our industry-leading airport weather solutions today.
About the author
Nick Lesser is a meteorologist and Risk Communicator at DTN. He specializes in hazard weather forecasting and decision support for airports, utilities, and live events. With DTN since 2017, Lesser holds a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Iowa State University.