As a meteorologist I have often been asked, ‘Why do you need to work night shifts?’ And the simple answer is, because the weather doesn’t stop when everyone goes to bed!
Commercial airports require a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast, commonly known as a TAF, to remain operational and allow aircraft to land and take off. This is a coded forecast for pilots, describing the wind speed and direction, cloud height, visibility and weather for that airport for the next 9, 24 or even 30 hours ahead. At the larger airports these TAFs continue overnight and need to be monitored and amended as any new weather information is reported. This helps to provide flight safety by giving the pilots the most up to date forecast. New TAFs are issued at regular intervals to airports through the overnight period. On site 24/7 support is also provided at several airports, RAF bases and with individual airlines.
Many airports will have flights continuing late into the night and from early in the morning which is why they need to be operational through the night, but airports also need to be prepared for unexpected diversions in the case of an emergency landing from aircraft not due to land at the airport. These larger airports also receive flights from long haul destinations, which may be in flight through the overnight period, but the pilots still need to know what conditions to expect at the destination airport before they take off. Therefore it is essential meteorologists continue to produce and monitor these forecasts 24 hours a day.
During the winter there are additional hazards such as snow or ice forming overnight on runways and aircraft. This needs to be forecast and monitored by meteorologists overnight to allow the airport operations to know if they will need to anti-ice the runway so that it is fully operational at the start of the day. Airlines also need to know well in advance of their first scheduled morning flight, whether or not they will need to de-ice their aircraft.
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays (including Christmas Day) are also business as usual for Operational Meteorologists. TAFs are still written for most airports and other aviation products, such as Area Forecasts, ballooning forecasts, and planning forecasts are produced as normal. On-site Meteorologists also remain available to support airports or airlines in their decision making.
24/7 forecasting and monitoring of the weather is essential to the aviation industry to highlight how the weather will impact on their operations and to help decisions to be made on how to reduce these impacts.
Richard McAlorum-Aviation Meteorologist