why are weather stations at airports?

Why Are Weather Stations at Airports?

So, why are weather stations at airports anyway?

The primary reason weather stations are installed at airports is to improve aviation safety. Weather stations are installed at airports by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Weather Service. Secondary users include other government agencies, weather reporting outlets, and others that are interested in accurate and standardized weather data.

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Your Weather Report comes from a Local Airport

We are all used to seeing and hearing weather reports on the news, not always aware of the fact that the report comes from some nearby airport. If you do a search online for your current weather, you’ll find the report is usually from some local airport. When you look for the national weather, again the temperature readings almost always come from a regional airport.

But why airports?

The original idea of installing weather stations at airports was all about pilot safety. It quickly became apparent that an airport was a perfect location to get very accurate weather data. So the National Weather Service got involved. A wide open area with no obstruction to the wind and no nearby buildings to affect the temperature is a perfect place to place a weather station.

Main reasons that weather stations are at airports:

  • Help pilots take off and land more safely
  • Provide ideal sites for the National Weather Service weather stations
  • Public weather reporting media has official and standardized data to report
  • We, the public, get the best weather reports available– free!

From a pilots perspective

A pilot needs to know what direction and how fast the wind is blowing. Even the most primitive airstrip almost always has at least a windsock. Check out YouTube for crosswind landings, and you’ll see what I mean. Crazy eh?

According to Business Insider, 49% of fatal airline crashes is during approach and landing.

The smallest airports may only have minimal equipment, perhaps no more than a windsock, the regional airports generally have high quality weather sensors.

The federal government has mandated standardized weather stations at airports above a certain size. The Federal Aviation Administration came up with a set of standards that airport weather stations must meet at the larger airports. These stations are known as AWOS weather stations.

AWOS stands for Automatic Weather Observation System. AWOS stations are usually regulated and operated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Wikipedia has a good write-up about Automatic Weather Observation Systems with a bunch of pictures, and a good chart describing the different classes of AWOS stations.

Why do my weather reports come from airports?

You get your weather reports from radio and TV stations, who get the reports from the National Weather Service.

While weather stations are vital for pilots, the weather community saw that airports, with the lack of obstructions, are an ideal location for weather stations.

The National Weather Service started installing high quality weather stations at airports that met the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. Airport weather stations that the NWS attends to are designated as ASOS stations. ASOS stands for Automated Surface Observing System. These stations are the official weather stations for the NWS.

The FAA and pilots have different needs than the NWS and other weather services. Pilots are interested in the weather right now, people into weather are interested in longer term trends to help with forecasting. With AWOS and ASOS stations, you get to satisfy both groups.

Are airport weather reports useful to me?

The fact that the airport weather station usually has high quality sensors installed in an ideal setting gives us confidence in the weather data produced. Airports have wide open areas without obstructions which makes it an ideal place for a weather station.

Airport weather stations have reliable weather data and usually a continuous historical record making them an ideal reference for weather reporting services. Official record high and low weather measurements are usually made at the airport.

If you own a home weather station, you’re often told to set your initial barometer setting to that of the closest airport. This is only practical if you live nearby. Airport barometers are used by pilots to calibrate their altimeters. Barometers and altimeters operate on the same principles.

Where can I find my local airport weather report

Look up your local airport online. http://www.airnav.com/airports/us for a list of airport weather stations.

How do weather stations at airports help pilots?

In the aviation field, safety is the top concern. To a pilot, takeoffs and landings are the most dangerous part of flying.

Airports above a certain size are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to have weather station equipment installed to assist with aviation safety. A pilot can also look up the weather at an airport they are thinking of flying to next. A local barometer allows a pilot to calibrate the aircraft altimeter.

49% of all fatal accidents happen during the final descent and landing phases of the average flight, while 14% of all fatal accidents happen during takeoff and initial climb. 

As pilots take off and land, they go from interacting with the air and the ground to purely interacting with the air.

If you’ve ever driven a car down the highway with a strong crosswind and went under an overpass or cut in the hills, you would immediately see the problem. To keep the car going straight down the road you have to gently steer into the wind. When the wind is suddenly interrupted, you must correct or find yourself in the weeds or oncoming traffic.

While the friction of your tires on the road stops the wind from sweeping you away, a plane in the wind has no such advantage.

For a pilot to fly in a straight line down the road you’re driving on he has to aim the plane somewhat into the wind. The highway is the same as the landing strip at the airport. The pilot has to stay aimed into the wind while in the air, but has to quickly aim the plane straight down the runway at the last moment.

Knowing the wind speed and direction is critical to a pilot. Even the smallest private or agricultural airports usually have a windsock for this purpose.

If the wind is at an angle to the runway, the pilot has to account for this. Have you ever seen a crosswind landing? Exciting stuff!

Other factors like temperature, air pressure, and air density also affect aircraft performance.

What information is reported by an airport weather station?

This is largely dependent upon the classification the weather stations falls under, but this is the most common information:

  • Wind speed and direction
  • Barometric pressure
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Rainfall
  • Cloud height
  • Visibility
  • Area storms

Well there you go, a little information on why weather stations are at airports. While you should appreciate the quality and accuracy of an airport weather station, if you are too far from the airport, your weather very well might be different.

This leads to the idea that the weather forecaster is wrong a lot. But maybe not. Maybe your weather really is different. Get yourself a home weather station, and you’ll know for sure!

Here are some more pages that might interest you:

Weather station mounting and siting considerations

The best home weather stations

There are different types of weather stations

Thanks for reading,

Paul