Rolling Out the Weather Cameras

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Technology can be a wonderful thing. Improvements have made great strides toward better and more complete information with the potential to improve aviation safety.

There are times that reviewing the weather reports and forecasts just doesn’t give a complete picture of the weather. You may find yourself wishing that you could just look out the window and see what is actually happening at your destination airport. That is where the FAA’s weather cameras come into play.

Weather cameras are a simple concept. They give you that view “out the window” while still sitting at home or at your departure airport. The technology behind these cameras is not quite as simple, but it is maturing to become a reality.

Where It All Began

Flying in Alaska can be beautiful and breathtaking. It can also be dangerous and unforgiving. Alaska has some of the most severe and rapidly changing weather in the country. To help pilots determine when and where it’s safe to fly, the FAA began rolling out weather cameras there more than 20 years ago. They have since deployed 230 weather cameras across the region.

The program has improved safety and efficiency by providing pilots with near real-time, visual weather information. The camera images are updated every 10 minutes and have been critical to helping pilots make better safety decisions. The program also helps aircraft operators save fuel by eliminating situations where pilots take off only to find they have to return due to bad weather.

Each of the weather camera sites is identified by a point on a map. Several camera angle views are available for most of the sites. The camera sites are not only positioned at airports but also may be found in critical mountain passes.

More camera sites are planned for Alaska in the future.

Weather Cameras Moving South

The success of the Alaska Weather Camera program has spawned interest in the lower 48 states and Hawaii. The State of Colorado entered into a cost reimbursement program with the FAA to install weather cameras on 13 of their mountain Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS) beginning in the spring of 2020. Pilots are now able to see weather conditions high in the Rockies right before they take off from the airport.

10 additional Colorado sites are planned for the summer of 2021.

Check out https://weathercams.faa.gov/ for a link to the available cameras.

As you will note, the web image includes a live view of the camera along with a reference view. The reference view is an image taken with the camera system on a clear day. It points out key features that may be seen through the camera’s view when the weather allows. It also gives you an idea of what may be hiding in the murk when the weather does not allow.

Beyond Alaska and Colorado, the FAA announced expansion of the weather camera program to Hawaii in February, 2021. As of this writing, site surveys and installations are ongoing for the Hawaii locations.

While weather cameras are currently only being implemented in 3 states, you can easily see the benefit that this technology provides. It has the potential to reduce controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents as well giving a better overall picture of the weather. There is no need to jump in the airplane to “take a look” when the look can be obtained from an easily accessible screen.

For more information about the program, check out Look Before You Fly with FAA Weather Cameras, written by Walter Combs, Manager of the FAA Weather Camera Program.

Here’s hoping for a future expansion across the country.

Fly and stay safe!

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Paul Jurgens is a Chief Instructor at Sporty's Academy. He holds a multiengine ATP certificate with a Cessna Citation type rating along with commercial privileges in single-engine land and sea airplanes, gliders, and hot air balloons. Chief Jurgens holds instructor ratings for single & multiengine airplanes, instrument airplanes, & gliders. He also has instructing privileges in hot air balloons by virtue of his commercial certificate.