First 449-MHz Wind Profiler Network Completed Along Southern Border of U.S.


August 2, 2007

The NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), Physical Sciences Division (PSD) recently completed the first of its kind operational network of 449-MHz wind profilers for the U.S. Air Force. Based on two decades of wind profiler technology and applications development research conducted by ESRL, a new state-of-the art wind profiling system was designed, meeting the needs of the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) program and delivering data to NOAA that is useful for forecasting weather from the Caribbean to Arizona. An aerostat is an unmanned, lighter than air vehicle (i.e., blimp). The term "tethered" means that the aerostat is moored to the ground by one or more ropes or cables. In the case of the TARS, the aerostatŐs primary payload is a surveillance radar. These airborne radars distributed along the U.S. southern border are used to detect and track low flying aircraft as part of the Nation's drug smuggling interdiction program. Between 2005 and 2007, PSD constructed and installed a new 449-MHz wind profiler at each of the eight remote TARS locations. Wind profilers provide real-time wind direction and speed profiles at the locations where the aerostats fly. PSD developed specialized computer displays to make this otherwise unavailable detailed wind information available to the aerostat flight operators. The displays give the operators a quantitative assessment of the wind forces affecting the flight of the aerostat, thereby allowing them to improve the operational performance and safety of the TARS.

Background:
The TARS program is managed by the Department of Defense. The U.S. Air Force is the executive agency for the eight operational TARS sites, which are positioned along the U.S. southern border in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. As part of the agreement to build the wind profilers, NOAA shares the profiler data with the public through the ESRL Global Systems Division's Meteorological Assimilation Data Ingest System (MADIS).

Significance:
The data collected from these profilers supports NOAA's mission and benefits society by providing wind observations in some of the remote areas of the southern U.S. that otherwise lack extensive weather monitoring. Used in conjunction with other monitoring systems, a more comprehensive meteorological record of the region is available to users such as weather forecasters and climate researchers. Wind profiler data from the TARS sites in southern Florida and Puerto Rico will also serve the hurricane forecast community. It is particularly difficult to monitor hurricane vertical structure without aircraft measurements, and yet changes in this vertical structure can directly impact the intensity of a hurricane as seen at the surface upon landfall. These new data can help monitor the vertical structure of tropical storms and hurricanes as they pass over a TARS site.

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