The impact of dropwindsonde and supplemental rawinsonde observations on track forecasts for Hurricane Irene (2011)

Sharanya J. Majumdar, Michael J. Brennan, Kate Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Because of the threat that Hurricane Irene (2011) posed to the United States, supplemental observations were collected for assimilation into operational numerical models in the hope of improving forecasts of the storm. Synoptic surveillance aircraft equipped with dropwindsondes were deployed twice daily over a 5-day period, and supplemental rawinsondes were launched from all upper-air sites in the continental United States east of the Rocky Mountains at 0600 and 1800 UTC, marking an unprecedented magnitude of coverage of special rawinsondes at the time. The impact of assimilating the supplemental observations on National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Global Forecast System (GFS) model track forecasts of Irene was evaluated over the period that these observations were collected. The GFS track forecasts possessed small errors even in the absence of the supplemental observations, providing little room for improvement on average. The assimilation of the combined dropwindsonde and supplemental rawinsonde data provided small but statistically significant improvements in the 42-60-h range for GFS forecasts initialized at 0600 and 1800 UTC. The primary improvement from the dropwindsonde data was also within this time range, with an average improvement of 20% for 48-h forecasts. The rawinsonde data mostly improved the forecasts beyond 3 days by modest amounts. Both sets of observations provided small, additive improvements to the average cross-track errors. Investigations of individual forecasts identified corrections to the model analyses of the Atlantic subtropical ridge and an upstream midlatitude short-wave trough over the contiguous United States due to the assimilation of the extra data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1385-1403
Number of pages19
JournalWeather and Forecasting
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Data assimilation
  • Dropsondes
  • Model evaluation/performance
  • North America
  • Radiosonde observations
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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