Weather and aviation go hand in hand

Jun 1, 2019 | Aviation, Community

National Weather Service

If rain falls in Las Vegas or the temperature reaches triple digits, it’s not official unless it’s recorded at McCarran, the meteorological observation point for the area’s National Weather Service office.

Weather records from the Las Vegas airfield go back more than 70 years. A lot has changed since then, but there remains a constant need for weather information at the airport.

“Weather and the aviation community work very closely, hand-in-hand,” said Chris Outler, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. “We work very closely with McCarran, in terms of monitoring the weather.”

More than 122 forecast offices across the country provide weather information to the general public, emergency management organizations, and airports. Here in Las Vegas, McCarran’s airfield is home to an array of climate sensors that send information to the local National Weather Service office, located just south of the airport. Additional data is gathered using sensors at the office, where employees launch weather balloons. Meteorologists work closely with the team in the Federal Aviation Administration tower to coordinate the launches.

“We do weather balloon launches twice a day, every day. They’re done everywhere across the country,” Outler said. “Ours are done at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. to give us a morning sample of the atmosphere and an afternoon sample. Weather balloons travel over 10 miles into the sky and give us information related to temperature and moisture profiles. They also tell us a lot of really invaluable information about wind and wind speed. “

Working in shifts, the staff of more than 20 provides forecasts to McCarran four times a day. During severe weather, those updates become more frequent. But even the regularly sunny skies of Las Vegas can change and produce some uncommon weather events.

“We have some pretty significant weather here from time to time,” Outler said. “During the summer monsoon season, we get occasional thunderstorms. And that is always really interesting. They can bring microbursts and lightning and really picturesque clouds.”

Weather conditions like wind and heat can have an impact on aviation activity, so airports rely on their local meteorologists for planning and coordination.

In the heat of the summer, the atmosphere is less dense. That means heavy aircraft need more room to take off. Wind speed and wind direction can also have an impact. McCarran has several take-off and landing configurations. If meteorologists see the wind is going to change, they’ll alert the FAA tower so controllers can choose the appropriate configuration.

Weather forecasts are crucial to maintaining a safe and efficient travel experience. Making adjustments throughout the day, McCarran, the FAA, airlines, and the meteorologists at the National Weather Service work in a coordinated effort to minimize the impact of weather on airport operations.

National Weather Service

National Weather Service

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