EXPLAINER: Convective weather in the tropics

Bloomberg has a lengthy, general-interest article about the weather-related problems faced by aircraft flying between the northern and southern hemisphere (i.e. AF447):

Violent weather in the region can approximate the supercells that spawn tornadoes in the U.S., which exceed altitudes of 50,000 feet, NOAA’s [Pat] Slattery said.

“We are eons ahead in forecasting convective storms in the central part of the U.S. than we are in forecasting them in the tropics,” said National Weather Service’s [Jason] Tuell. “So much of it takes place over water in the tropics — over the Indian Ocean, Pacific and Atlantic — and there is just much less data available because of that.”

There is also a brief discussion of Honeywell’s “IntuVue” 3D weather radar product:

[Honeywell’s] three-dimensional systems, introduced less than three years ago, are in a small portion of the commercial aircraft fleet, said Chris Benich, director of aerospace regulatory affairs at the world’s largest maker of airplane controls. Among airlines using IntuVue are Cathay Pacific Airways, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines Ltd., while the U.S. Air Force uses it on C-17 cargo planes, according to a list provided by Honeywell. The cost for long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 777 is about $335,000, said Bill Reavis, a Honeywell spokesman.

Most commercial planes are equipped with two-dimensional radar that requires pilots to manipulate it to get an accurate picture of the weather, Benich said.

“With older weather radars, pilots have difficulty accurately determining the top of significant weather,” Benich said.

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