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Weather Advisories, the VATSIM Way!


Zachary Beard
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The likely mismatch between what the controller sees and what the pilots see (and indeed the mismatch from one pilot to the next) is the main reason I haven't bothered to implement any weather radar overlays in my clients.

 

I understand the sentiment, Ross, but to be quite honest, the real-world NEXRAD WARP that ERAM gets is pretty low resolution to begin with (and somewhat delayed as confirmed by the previous posts). Such low resolution, in fact, that often times what we see out the windows and what the controller's 2D representation depicts can be wildly inconsistent. I've had controllers express outright shock that I've gone through what on their scopes appears to be heavy or even extreme precipitation with no ride or precipitation issues, and vice-versa.

 

Color me in the camp of strongly in favor of even the most generalized available weather picture on the scopes. It would greatly reduce the workload in having to match up and ballpark positions and distances using the skyvector method described by ZB above.

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Dhruv Kalra

VATUSA ZMP ATM | Instructor | VATSIM Network Supervisor

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I see where you're coming from, but there's pretty much no way I'll invest any time developing a feature that ties the system to a specific payware weather engine.

 

That's understandable, though I wouldn't so much look at it as tying it to a particular engine (which would imply some level of compulsion) as providing an extra feature for those who already own said weather engine. In an ideal world, I guess there'd be the option of the free NEXRAD data, or pulling the Activesky (/insert any other engine here that can provide the appropriate data) data for those who wish to do so, but I can see how that would increase the programming workload!

 

I don't know much about ATC displays (and even less about US ATC displays!) but I would [Mod - Happy Thoughts]ume the weather is generally an overlay that can be turned on or off -- in which case, if in a particular situation it is becoming distracting/particularly out of step with what pilots are experiencing then the controller could just turn it off. Even the NEXRAD data in theory should provide some sort of indication of the general state and location of the weather, which should be replicated to a reasonable extent in the vast majority of weather engines, if not exactly aligned (but then again -- as Alex and Dhruv say, it's unlikely to be in real life either).

 

As I say, you'd probably obtain the most accurate (for the VATSIM world) results from linking to some sort of weather engine, but I can completely understand why you might be reluctant to do that.

Vice President, Pilot Training

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That's understandable, though I wouldn't so much look at it as tying it to a particular engine (which would imply some level of compulsion) as providing an extra feature for those who already own said weather engine. In an ideal world, I guess there'd be the option of the free NEXRAD data, or pulling the Activesky (/insert any other engine here that can provide the appropriate data) data for those who wish to do so, but I can see how that would increase the programming workload.

I think the best solution would be using a NEXRAD (or some free weather feed, there are plenty of them in use [such as the one on VATTASTIC]). Better keep all the controllers on the same page than every controller and every pilot having their own engine.

 

I don't know if either of these are worthwhile looking into. I just found them with a quick search.

NEXRAD on AWS

NOAA Weather Display and Conversion Tools

Iowa State's NEXRAD (US Only). This is what VATTASTIC uses.

What the XP NOAA Weather plugin uses

Josh Glottmann
Deputy Air Traffic Manager
Oakland ARTCC
[email protected]

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I understand the sentiment, Ross, but to be quite honest, the real-world NEXRAD WARP that ERAM gets is pretty low resolution to begin with (and somewhat delayed as confirmed by the previous posts). Such low resolution, in fact, that often times what we see out the windows and what the controller's 2D representation depicts can be wildly inconsistent. I've had controllers express outright shock that I've gone through what on their scopes appears to be heavy or even extreme precipitation with no ride or precipitation issues, and vice-versa.

 

I don't see resolution as a concern. With poor resolution, the weather is still in the right location relative to the route of flight. Sure, it may be delayed, but delay can be compensated for in the controller's mental picture.

 

Even with resolution differences, delayed data, and other factors that we haven't even mentioned yet such as radar shadowing, the weather depiction on a controller's scope can still allow the controller to provide weather advisories that will be useful to the pilots in the area.

 

Remember that in the real world, controllers have another source of weather data: pilots. The pilots all get the same weather. And the weather reports that they give, or the weather deviations that they request, are all additional data points that improve the controller's overall picture.

 

I think of all these things as factors that contribute (positively or negatively) to the overall validity and utility of the weather picture for both pilots and controllers. You can also think of them as factors that move the "error bars" in or out.

 

That's real world ... now, step into the VATSIM world. You've just introduced a new factor that does not have an analog in the real world: your pilots have different weather. This is a negative factor that is potentially very large. It pushes those error bars much further apart. I say potentially because we don't really know how much variance there is from one pilot to the next and from one weather engine to the next. This factor makes the weather overlays on the controller's scope potentially much less useful.

 

I liken it to the usefulness of things like ride reports and wind shear reports on VATSIM. It is highly unlikely that the smoothness of the ride or presence of wind shear is going to be consistent from one pilot to the next. For the most part, these reports are just ear candy. They add a bit of realistic flair to the experience for both pilots and controllers. Certainly the same is true of weather overlays on the scope ... it would add realism for both pilots and controllers. However, there is one HUGE difference: ride reports require no software engineering. They are "free". Not so for weather overlays.

 

So unless we can get consistent weather on the pilot's side (and again, someone needs to do the testing ... we may already be "close enough") then weather overlays on the scope are effectively just eye candy, and, in my opinion, not worth the engineering cost.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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So unless we can get consistent weather on the pilot's side (and again, someone needs to do the testing ... we may already be "close enough") then weather overlays on the scope are effectively just eye candy, and, in my opinion, not worth the engineering cost.

Understandable. So, if we were to take a crack at building a test regimen, what sorts of empirical data points would you be after, and how can we get the ball rolling?

Dhruv Kalra

VATUSA ZMP ATM | Instructor | VATSIM Network Supervisor

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So, if we were to take a crack at building a test regimen, what sorts of empirical data points would you be after, and how can we get the ball rolling?

 

I suppose step 1 would be to list the popular weather engines. Obviously there's the various flavors of Active Sky. I'm not sure what others are out there. (I've only used Active Sky and now ASN myself.)

 

Then we need to know if those engines all pull real world precipitation weather radar return data in order to determine placement of clouds in the sim. If they don't, then they're just generating clouds randomly based on the precip info in the closest METAR, and we can stop there.

 

One thing I'm not sure of here is what happens if Active Sky is configured to pull VATSIM weather. (If that's even still a feature.) As I understand it, when that feature is enabled, AS pulls METARs from VATSIM for the departure and destination fields. When that happens, and there is precipitation noted in the METAR, does AS randomly place the appropriate type of clouds somewhere around the field, and does this override any precipitation radar data that it pulls from a real world source? If it does override real world precip data, then I suppose we can just advise users to NOT enable that feature. Since VATSIM METARs come from the real world anyway, that feature seems kind of pointless. (Maybe it's useful in parts of the world where VATSIM's METAR sources are delayed or unreliable, causing a mismatch with real-world weather?)

 

If we can get by all that, and we know that the popular weather engines are pulling real world precip radar data, then the next step is to determine how accurately the engine can place cloud formations in the sim. This is where things get fuzzy. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that the sim doesn't give developers very good control over the placement of clouds. This is where we would need to do some testing. We'd have to try each weather engine in the same location on several different computers each and see what we get. Probably the low-hanging fruit here is to start with the most popular engine (ASN) and check the consistency of cloud placement across many different computers all running the latest version of ASN, all with their aircraft placed near an area of known precipitation. (Something strong enough to show returns on SkyVector, for comparison.) If it's consistent within ASN, then we can move on and test to see if it is consistent across other weather engines. If it's not even consistent within ASN, then we're done.

 

Obviously, the definition of "consistent" here is somewhat subjective, but I don't think it's reasonable to try to come up with actual tolerance values. We'll need to make a judgement call based on what we see in the sims.

Developer: vPilot, VRC, vSTARS, vERAM, VAT-Spy

Senior Controller, Boston Virtual ARTCC

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Here's a couple of images of the ASN map side-by-side with the Skyvector radar image. It's slightly awkward because the ASN map is presented at an odd oblique angle, but hopefully you can see you're looking at roughly the same things in each image.

 

Northern UK:

xwciEdE.jpg

 

Newfoundland:

OsUHB1u.jpg

 

Whilst it's obviously not a perfect matchup, I'd say that the basic outline and position of the highest intensity areas matches up fairly well.

 

Incidentally, that's with VATSIM weather turned on: I'll turn it off and see what, if any, difference there is.

 

Edit: here's Cuba and the south of Florida with VATSIM weather on:

L8AQhEe.jpg

 

And with it off:

LPOoNGC.jpg

 

Not a colossal amount of difference but, again, I'd say the general pattern matches up reasonably well.

Vice President, Pilot Training

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As a real life controller, the weather NOT matching what the pilot sees and what the radar sees is actually realistic. There are hundreds of times I've called weather and the pilot says, "I don't see anything out there" or I call weather at the 10 oclock and it's actually at the 1 oclock.

 

WARP updates are only updated 15 minutes. My nexrad on the wall is faster, but I can't see where the planes are in reference to it.

 

I would fully support adding a weather layer to VATSIM, atleast it adds a degree of complexity to the center traffic, allowing you to call weather and allow pilots to "deviate around it". And just like real life, you'll have the occasional pilot go 30 miles out of his way because his weather doesn't match, but atleast you're adding that additional layer of realism. Currently on center in VATSIM, once they're up there, there's really nothing to do. Minor sequencing at best.

"TF", ZMA

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I concur with the general opinion of most here. Weather has been something I've wanted to see for a long time on scope. Even if it's not 100% accurate, adds a degree of realism that would enhance the experience.

Andrew James Doubleday | Twitch Stream: Ground_Point_Niner

University of North Dakota | FAA Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) GraduateGPN_Horizontal_-_Tertiary.thumb.png.9d7edc4d985ab7ed1dc60b92a5dfa85c.png

 

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I hope this thread doesn't slowly fade away into the unresolved, because I think there has been some good dialogue in here. I am in the camp, as it sounds others are too, that putting the NEXRAD overlay on the STARS and ERAM products may be a good thing to boost some realism and a different level of interaction. I would rather see a consistent NEXRAD display among controllers rather than it be dependent on how it is going to display from one simmer to the next using product A vs. product B. I appreciate you being somewhat open to this Ross. I don't know how much the suggested testing will help. I personally would love just to see the NEXRAD injected into the software with the option to turn on and off perhaps in different levels. However, if the only way, as I said in my initial post "the juice is worth the squeeze" is to clearly define that there is empirical benefit through what simmers see, then I hope we can find a solid test group and get started and not let this idea die.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Right now I'm having a slight issue with SkyVector.

It seems that you have to refresh the page every time you want to update the radar feed (and then subsequently turn on the radar again in "Layers").

 

Is there any way around this, or an alternative solution, it's just a bit of a bother to refresh the page every 15 minutes and turn it back on again.

Josh Glottmann
Deputy Air Traffic Manager
Oakland ARTCC
[email protected]

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Right now I'm having a slight issue with SkyVector.

Is there any way around this, or an alternative solution

 

http://artcc.aircharts.org/zma.php

 

[Mod - Happy Thoughts]uming you're aware of this, but if not, here ya go! I use this combined with SkyVector. That way I can get a reference as to where the aircraft is in relation to the weather. From there, I can check SkyVector for further information on real-world PIREPs, SIGMETs, etc.

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[Mod - Happy Thoughts]uming you're aware of this, but if not, here ya go! I use this combined with SkyVector. That way I can get a reference as to where the aircraft is in relation to the weather. From there, I can check SkyVector for further information on real-world PIREPs, SIGMETs, etc.

Been a while since I looked at this.... didn't realize it had NEXRAD, thanks. Any idea how often this updates?

Josh Glottmann
Deputy Air Traffic Manager
Oakland ARTCC
[email protected]

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In real life, I try to emphasize if the intensity of the weather will increase deeper in a larger cell. For example, "I'm depicting moderate to extreme precipitation 11 to 12 o'clock, 50 miles, cell is 40 miles in diameter with larger areas of extreme precipitation at the eastern edge of the cell".

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for this information, Zachary! Very good to joggle our ATC minds in areas that we generally don't step into.

 

I was discussing this with a friend, Matthew Campbell (ZJX C1), and he mentioned that the example you used must be ZAB-specific, since certain areas of information slightly differed from the base 7110.65 phraseology example.

 

We noticed in the 7110.65 that various examples of this phraseology include (or leave out) the moving direction of the weather, as well as the speed, tops, and depth. I'm [Mod - Happy Thoughts]uming what you posted derived from the 7110.65 2-6-4, interpreted for ZAB ARTCC operations, is this correct?

 

 

Either way, it's perfectly acceptable to include or leave out tid bits of information...even the 7110.65 examples do not include everything! It's facility specific, anyway. Both ways work, as long as the basic information is p[Mod - Happy Thoughts]ed to the pilot.

 

Just our 2 cents.

 

Thanks again for this informative post!

Toby Rice

Air Traffic Manager, Instructor

Honolulu Control Facility

[email protected]

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  • 6 months later...
You could also offer vectors around the weather. This happens quite a bit in real life as a lot of aircraft don't have weather radar. ATC will point out the weather as you said but also offer to vector them around it.

I'd gladly offer vectors around weather if I had it depicted on my scope

Dhruv Kalra

VATUSA ZMP ATM | Instructor | VATSIM Network Supervisor

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I'd gladly offer vectors around weather if I had it depicted on my scope

So I got to thinking about this one... there are web services out there than provide raster tile maps of NEXRAD weather. Wouldn't it be nifty if someone were to make an AutoHotKey-based GUI that downloaded said tiles and placed them in a transparent, click-through-able GUI that was always-on-top of your radar client - VRC in my case?

 

Something like this:

 

horrible_attempt.jpg

 

It was a very, very rough attempt. There's a difference between how VRC "projects" the Earth vs. how the NEXRAD feed does, so there's some 3D transformation going on that's not right. I accounted for the -13.75 degree rotation on the VRC scope, but that's about it. Plus, you can see the color I chose for transparency (magenta) bleeding through around the edges of the NEXRAD imagery.

 

Like I said, rough. But sometimes I get bored and want some nerdy side-project to work on, so who knows.

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I'd gladly offer vectors around weather if I had it depicted on my scope

So I got to thinking about this one... there are web services out there than provide raster tile maps of NEXRAD weather. Wouldn't it be nifty if someone were to make an AutoHotKey-based GUI that downloaded said tiles and placed them in a transparent, click-through-able GUI that was always-on-top of your radar client - VRC in my case?

 

Something like this:

 

horrible_attempt.jpg

 

It was a very, very rough attempt. There's a difference between how VRC "projects" the Earth vs. how the NEXRAD feed does, so there's some 3D transformation going on that's not right. I accounted for the -13.75 degree rotation on the VRC scope, but that's about it. Plus, you can see the color I chose for transparency (magenta) bleeding through around the edges of the NEXRAD imagery.

 

Like I said, rough. But sometimes I get bored and want some nerdy side-project to work on, so who knows.

 

That's flipping AMAZING!

Marcus Miller

Houston Air Traffic Manager

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