A research effort primarily involving pilot balloon observations was carried out during the summer of 1997 to study rainfall variability over Central America. This activity, supported by NOAA's Pan American Climate Studies (PACS) program, grew in scope in response to the strong El Nino event of 1997/98 and subsequently evolved into a network ranging from Mexico to Paraguay. The overall goal of the PACS-Sounding Network (PACS-SONET) was to obtain relatively inexpensive wind profiles for describing climate variability over parts of the intertropical Americas that were not well covered by routine radiosonde observations. Major portions of the project supported climate research programs focusing on both the South and North American monsoon systems, while other parts of the network provided multiyear observations across important gaps in the Central American cordillera and also helped to describe cross-equatorial flow variations in the eastern Pacific. Approximately 50,000 observations were made by the PACS-SONET over its 10-yr operation.

This paper describes the motivation for and evolution of the network, the logistical complications that were involved in establishing and operating a long-term multinational network, and some of the important results from analysis of the data. We conclude by discussing some of our perspectives on why the network was unable to make a transition from research funding to one supported by meteorological services of the region.

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NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, and NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

*CURRENT AFFILIATION: Weather Decision Technologies, Inc., Norman, Oklahoma