Stress-Testing Anemometers for FAA

Mount Washington Observatory’s history of supporting aviation safety continued during 2020-21 as our extreme weather lab was utilized to test wind sensors for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which operates meteorological equipment at Alaska’s Juneau International Airport.

Located almost 4,000 miles from the White Mountains, the busy airport’s single runway sits at the end of Gastineau Channel, which is surrounded by steeply rising mountains — a combination that accelerates wind speeds and creates complex, terrain-influenced turbulence. Pilots flying in and out of Juneau “face some of the nation’s most challenging navigational conditions,” according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

NCAR partnered with FAA to enhance the turbulence warning system for Juneau, and Mount Washington Observatory supported FAA in evaluating several sonic anemometer prototypes for use in severe icing conditions.

The remote mountaintop weather stations that collect wind and temperature data for the Juneau airport are exposed to extreme rime icing, posing challenges for wind sensor maintenance. Building on our history as a weather lab for stress-testing innovative products, including aeronautical equipment, several sonic anemometers were installed on our Observatory tower so their durability could be assessed given conditions of acute turbulence, extreme icing, and minimal maintenance.

What better place to evaluate an anemometer prototype than on a remote peak that is known for the world’s worst weather and is staffed 24 hours a day by meteorologists and technicians?

“We were excited to support this project and the FAA’s work on strong aviation safety standards,” said the Observatory’s Director of Science & Education Brian Fitzgerald.

Sonic anemometers were tested on the Mount Washington Observatory tower for use at the Juneau International Airport.