An assessment of the value of data from the NOAA Profiler Network (NPN) on weather forecasting is presented. A series of experiments was conducted using the Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) model/assimilation system in which various data sources were denied in order to assess the relative importance of the profiler data for short-range wind forecasts. Average verification statistics from a 13-day cold-season test period indicate that the profiler data have a positive impact on short-range (3–12 h) forecasts over the RUC domain containing the lower 48 United States, which are strongest at the 3-h projection over a central U.S. subdomain that includes most of the profiler sites, as well as downwind of the profiler observations over the eastern United States. Overall, profiler data reduce wind forecast errors at all levels from 850 to 150 hPa, especially below 300 hPa where there are relatively few automated aircraft observations. At night when fewer commercial aircraft are flying, profiler data also contribute strongly to more accurate 3-h forecasts, including near-tropopause maximum wind levels. For the test period, the profiler data contributed up to 20%–30% (at 700 hPa) of the overall reduction of 3-h wind forecast error by all data sources combined. Inclusion of wind profiler data also reduced 3-h errors for height, relative humidity, and temperature by 5%-15%, averaged over different vertical levels. Time series and statistics from large-error events demonstrate that the impact of profiler data may be much larger in peak error situations.

Three data assimilation case studies from cold and warm seasons are presented that illustrate the value of the profiler observations for improving weather forecasts. The first case study indicates that inclusion of profiler data in the RUC model runs for the 3 May 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak improved model guidance of convective available potential energy (CAPE), 300-hPa wind, and precipitation in southwestern Oklahoma at the onset of the event. In the second case study, inclusion of profiler data led to better RUC precipitation forecasts associated with a severe snow and ice storm that occurred over the central plains of the United States in February 2001. A third case study describes the effect of profiler data for a tornado event in Oklahoma on 8 May 2003. Summaries of National Weather Service (NWS) forecaster use of profiler data in daily operations, although subjective, support the results from these case studies and the statistical forecast model impact study in the broad sense that profiler data contribute significantly to improved short-range forecasts over the central United States where these observations currently exist.

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NOAA/Forecast Systems Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

*Additional affiliation: Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmospheres, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

A supplement to this article is available online (DOI:10.1175/BAMS-84-11-Benjamin)