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Field operations and data impact studies examine how observations from high-altitude unmanned aircraft can improve forecasts of tropical cyclones and other high-impact weather events.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) project evaluated the ability of observations from high-altitude unmanned aircraft to improve forecasts of high-impact weather events like tropical cyclones or mitigate potential degradation of forecasts in the event of a future gap in satellite coverage. During three field campaigns conducted in 2015 and 2016, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Global Hawk, instrumented with GPS dropwindsondes and remote sensors, flew 15 missions sampling 6 tropical cyclones and 3 winter storms. Missions were designed using novel techniques to target sampling regions where high model forecast uncertainty and a high sensitivity to additional observations existed. Data from the flights were examined in real time by operational forecasters, assimilated in operational weather forecast models, and applied post-mission to a broad suite of data impact studies. Results from the analyses spanning different models and assimilation schemes, though limited in number, consistently demonstrate the potential for positive forecast impact from the observations, both with and without a gap in satellite coverage. The analyses with the then-operational modeling system demonstrated large forecast improvements near 15% for tropical cyclone track at a 72-h lead time when the observations were added to the otherwise complete observing system. While future decisions regarding use of the Global Hawk platform will include budgetary considerations, and more observations are required to enhance statistical significance, the scientific results support the potential merit of the observations. This article provides an overview of the missions flown, observational approach, and highlights from the completed and ongoing data impact studies.

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