How Accurate are Weather Forecasts?

Photo Courtesy of Forrest Black

UMKC graduate student looks for the answer

Forrest Black isn’t a pilot, but he’s helping to make air travel safer and more efficient.

Black, a UMKC geosciences graduate student, is on an internship as a research assistant at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the fall of 2016.

Black is researching how major weather events impact the National Airspace System (airports, navigation facilities and airspaces of the United States). He wants to develop a tool that will reconstruct the evolution of those events using weather and flight data.

Black works in the aviation operation and crew systems branch at Langley. He does work for air traffic management and works on up-to-date weather data by analyzing how accurate the forecasts are. For example, a six-hour forecast will be less accurate than a three-hour forecast.

“I’m quantifying how inaccurate those forecasts are, relative to the farther out they go,” Black said. “Usually current radar data is used by Air Traffic Management to determine which areas aircraft should avoid during bad convective weather. Using forecast information may be helpful to pilots if current radar is not available, reducing air traffic delays. However, it is important to quantify the accuracy of those forecasts to ensure aircraft do not fly into bad convective weather if the forecast was incorrect.”

Research wasn’t Black’s first career choice. Armed with an undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2010, Black worked as a web designer for a couple of years before he decided to return to UMKC for his master’s degree.

Black planned to graduate in May, but an opportunity to extend his internship through the summer of 2017 was too good to pass up. He’ll receive his master’s degree in geoscience from the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences at the end of the summer, but in the meantime he’ll continue analyzing the impact of weather on aviation.

Black’s mentor, Jejung “JJ” Lee, Ph.D., Department of Geosciences associate professor, introduced him to research through SEARCH, Students Engaged in Artistic and Academic Research, the largest undergraduate research event at UMKC.

“SEARCH started me on the path to research,” Black said. “It’s been a progression. I’ve always enjoyed mapping, but I thought it would be good to get into the more scientific side. UMKC has enabled me to have some great opportunities.”

As Black nears the end of his graduate studies and looks to a career, he plans to find a job doing research that has practical applications with the experience he has acquired. However, he hasn’t forgotten his love of geology and hopes to incorporate it into a future career. “We’ll see what happens next.”

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