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How Southwest Meteorologists Handle Hurricane Season

Explorer C

Located in Network Operations Control (NOC) at Southwest’s Headquarters, the Meteorology Team consists of 10 operational meteorologists who specialize in impact-oriented forecasting and weather communication. The conclusions from our meteorologists are used in strategic and tactical decision support across all of Southwest’s operations.


Our meteorologists work on the bridge in the NOC, and utilize up to seven computer monitors to analyze weather data, build graphics, and collaborate with each other as well as other forecasters in the National Weather ServiceOur meteorologists work on the bridge in the NOC, and utilize up to seven computer monitors to analyze weather data, build graphics, and collaborate with each other as well as other forecasters in the National Weather Service

Our primary goals include delivering twice-daily weather briefs to operational Managers and Leaders, issuing point forecasts for key locations and events, and providing short-term weather support for tactical operations. We work closely with Dispatch Superintendents who are tasked with the important responsibility of strategically determining which flights to delay or cancel so as to impact our Customers as little as possible. The “Met” team is also in the process of obtaining FAA certification to issue legally binding, coded forecasts for Southwest stations. These will help the Dispatchers and others in the NOC minimize negative weather impacts to the Southwest network!


After the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the end of hurricane season is on many people’s minds. Although we’ve reached the final 2 months of the 2017 season, we have still only just passed the peak for landfalls in Florida and the Carolinas. Thus, the Southwest Meteorology Team remains on high alert. We are the first to pounce the moment we foresee a tropical threat to our network. When this occurs, we compile an overview of the current status and forecast the behavior of the storm, with a special focus on potential impacts to Southwest stations. This involves not only the forecast but also possible threats to infrastructure and geography around the Station. We even consider the psychology of the People in locations likely to be impacted as well as the perceived hype among local Employees, Customers, and the general public to ensure our message is clear. Depending on the threat level, there are extra meetings in the NOC with Leaders from across the network and many disciplines to best determine how to prepare and keep our Customers in the loop. There are a lot of moving parts to an airline and anticipating adverse weather is one of the most proactive things we can do to ensure each of our Customers safely reaches his or her final destination on time.


Network Operation Control at Southwest Airlines Headquarters, Dallas, TXNetwork Operation Control at Southwest Airlines Headquarters, Dallas, TX

In addition to everything the Meteorology Team does to directly support Southwest operations, we also have vital partnerships with NOAA’s National Weather Service. Southwest Airlines recently became an NWS Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador, and we remain the only major commercial carrier to have that designation. As part of this partnership, we help the NWS produce better, more useful products, and in turn, leverage many of these products—and a lot of data—to build our own forecasts. We regularly communicate with NWS offices around the country, collaborating on forecasts and on special research projects. Additionally, Southwest contributes valuable data from our aircraft to augment existing NWS forecasting tools and weather prediction models.


"Weather data collected using sensors on Southwest Airlines planes is improving the predictions of weather forecast models for all kinds of weather, including where and when fog will occur, cloud formation and dissipation, and altitudes of cloud ceilings,” says Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Weather Service. Be on the lookout for future co-branded posts between Southwest and the National Weather Service!


Takeaways so far from the 2017 Hurricane Season:

  • 2017 is the first season on record with three US landfalls at Category 4 intensity or higher and may eventually enter history books as the costliest ever, with recent cost estimates of $224 billion. The 2005 season (Katrina, Rita, Wilma) currently holds that record.
  • Harvey: Shattered the previous record for wettest tropical system in the US when it dropped more than five feet of rain on parts of Texas.
  • Irma: Maintained peak winds of 185mph for more than 36 hours, the longest of any storm on record worldwide. For perspective, a skydiver’s top speed before deploying their parachute is only about 130mph.
  • Maria: Doubled its sustained wind speed in 24 hours, from 80mph to 160mph, intensifying from Tropical Storm to Category 5 strength in just over a day.