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9.2: Meteorological Reports and Observations

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  • One branch of the United Nations is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Weather-observation standards are set by the WMO. Also, the WMO works with most nations of the world to coordinate and synchronize weather observations. Such observations are made simultaneously at specified Coordinated Universal Times (UTC) to allow meteorologists to create a synoptic (snapshot) picture of the weather ( see Chapter 1).

    Most manual upper-air and surface synoptic observations are made at 00 and 12 UTC. Fewer countries make additional synoptic observations at 06 and 18 UTC.

    9.2.1. Weather Codes

    One of the great successes of the WMO is the international sharing of real-time weather data via the Global Telecommunication System (GTS). To enable this sharing, meteorologists in the world have agreed to speak the same weather language. This is accomplished by using Universal Observation Codes and abbreviations. Definitions of some of these codes are in:

    World Meteorological Organization: 1995 (revised 2015): Manual on Codes. International Codes Vol. 1.1 Part A - Alphanumeric Codes. WMO-No. 306. 466 pages.

    Federal Meteorological Handbook No. 1 (Sept 2005): Surface Weather Observations and Reports. FCM-H1-2005. 

    Both manuals can be found with an online search. 

    Sharing of real-time data across large distances became practical with the invention of the electric telegraph in the 1830s. Later developments included the teletype, phone modems, and the internet. Because weather codes in the early days were sent and received manually, they usually consisted of human-readable abbreviations and contractions. 

    Modern table-driven code formats (TDCF) are increasingly used to share data. One is CREX (Character form for the Representation and EXchange of data). Computer binary codes include BUFR (Binary Universal Form for the Representation of meteorological data) and GRIB (Gridded Binary). 

    However, there still are important sets of alphanumeric codes (letters & numbers) that are human writable and readable. Different alphanumeric codes exist for different types of weather observations and forecasts, as listed in Table 9-1. We will highlight one code here — the METAR

    Sample Application

    Interpret the following METAR code:

    METAR KSJT 160151Z AUTO 10010KT 10SM TS FEW060 BKN075 28/18 A2980 RMK AO2 LTG DSNT ALQDS TSB25 SLP068 T02780178

    Hint: see the METAR section later in this chapter. 

    Find the Answer: 

    Weather conditions at KSJT (San Angelo, Texas, USA) observed at 0151 UTC on 16th of the current month by an automated station: Winds are from the 100° at 10 knots. Visibility is 10 statute miles or more. Weather is a thunderstorm. Clouds: few clouds at 6000 feet AGL, broken clouds at 7500 feet AGL. Temperature is 28°C and dewpoint is 18°C. Pressure (altimeter) is 29.80 inches Hg. REMARKS: Automated weather station type 2. Distant (> 10 statute miles) lightning in all quadrants. Thunderstorm began at 25 minutes past the hour. Sea-level pressure is 100.68 kPa. Temperature more precisely is 27.8°C, and dewpoint is 17.8°C. 

    Exposition: As you can see, codes are very concise ways of reporting the weather. Namely, the 3 lines of METAR code give the same info as the 12 lines of plain-language interpretation. 

    You can use online web sites to search for station IDs. More details on how to code or decode METARs are in the Federal Meteor. Handbook No. 1 (2005) and various online guides. The month and year of the observation are not included in the METAR, because the current month and year are implied.

    I am a pilot and flight instructor, and when I access METARs online, I usually select the option to have the computer give me the plain-language interpretation. Many pilots find this the easiest way to use METARs. After all, it is the weather described by the code that is important, not the code itself. However, meteorologists and aviation-weather briefers who use METARs every day on the job generally memorize the codes.

    Table 9-1. List of alphanumeric weather codes.
    Name Purpose
    SYNOP Report of surface observation from a fixed land station
    SHIP Report of surface observation from a sea station
    SYNOP MOBIL Report of surface observation from a mobile land station
    METAR Aviation routine weather report (with or without trend forecast)
    SPECI Aviation selected special weather report (with or without trend forecast)
    BUOY Report of a buoy observation
    RADOB Report of ground radar weather observation
    RADREP Radiological data report (monitored on a routine basis and/or in case of accident)
    PILOT Upper-wind report from a fixed land station
    PILOT SHIP Upper-wind report from a sea station
    PILOT MOBIL Upper-wind report from a mobile land station
    TEMP Upper-level pressure, temperature, humidity and wind report from a fixed land station
    TEMP SHIP Upper-level pressure, temperature, humidity and wind report from a sea station
    TEMP DROP Upper-level pressure, temperature, humidity and wind report from a dropsonde released by carrier balloons or aircraft
    TEMP MOBIL Upper-level pressure, temperature, humidity and wind report from a mobile land station
    ROCOB Upper-level temperature, wind and air density report from a land rocketsonde station
    ROCOB SHIP Upper-level temperature, wind and air density report from a rocketsonde station on a ship
    CODAR Upper-air report from an aircraft (other than weather reconnaissance aircraft)
    AMDAR Aircraft report (Aircraft Meteorological DAta Relay)
    ICEAN Ice analysis
    IAC Analysis in full form
    IAC FLEET Analysis in abbreviated form
    GRID Processed data in the form of grid-point values
    GRAF Processed data in the form of grid-point values (abbreviated code form)
    WINTEM Forecast upper wind and temperature for aviation
    TAF Aerodrome forecast
    ARFOR Area forecast for aviation
    ROFOR Route forecast for aviation
    RADOF Radiological trajectory dose forecast (defined time of arrival and location)
    MAFOR Forecast for shipping
    TRACKOB Report of marine surface observation along a ship’s track
    BATHY Report of bathythermal observation
    TESAC Temperature, salinity and current report from a sea station
    WAVEOB Report of spectral wave information from a sea station or from a remote platform (aircraft or satellite)
    HYDRA Report of hydrological observation from a hydrological station
    HYFOR Hydrological forecast
    CLIMAT Report of monthly values from a land station
    CLIMAT SHIP Report of monthly means and totals from an ocean weather station
    NACLI, CLINP, SPCLI, CLISA, INCLI Report of monthly means for an oceanic area
    CLIMAT TEMP Report of monthly aerological means from a land station
    CLIMAT TEMP SHIP Report of monthly aerological means from an ocean weather station
    SFAZI Synoptic report of bearings of sources of atmospherics (e.g., from lightning)
    SFLOC Synoptic report of the geographical location of sources of atmospherics
    SFAZU Detailed report of the distribution of sources of atmospherics by bearings for any period up to and including 24 hours
    SAREP Report of synoptic interpretation of cloud data obtained by a meteorological satellite
    SATEM Report of satellite remote upper-air soundings of pressure, temperature and humidity
    SARAD Report of satellite clear radiance observations
    SATOB Report of satellite observations of wind, surface temperature, cloud, humidity and radiation

    9.2.2. METAR and SPECI

    METAR stands for routine Meteorological Aerodrome Report. It contains hourly observations of surface weather made at a manual or automatic weather station at an airport. It is formatted as a text message using codes (abbreviations, and a specified ordering of the data blocks separated by spaces) that concisely describe the weather. 

    Here is a brief summary on how to read METARs. Grey items below can be omitted if not needed.


    [METAR or SPECI] [corrected] [weather station ICAO code] [day, time] [report type] [wind direction, speed, gusts, units] [direction variability] [prevailing visibility, units] [minimum visibility, direction] [runway number, visual range] [current weather] [lowest altitude cloud coverage, altitude code] [higher-altitude cloud layers if present] [temperature/dewpoint] [units, sea-level pressure code] [supplementary] RMK [remarks].

    Example (with remarks removed): METAR KTTN 051853Z 04011G20KT 1 1/4SM R24/6200FT VCTS SN FZFG BKN003 OVC010 M02/M03 A3006 RMK...

    Interpretation of the Example Above

    Routine weather report for Trenton-Mercer Airport (NJ, USA) made on the 5th day of the current month at 1853 UTC. Wind is from 040° true at 11 gusting to 20 knots. Visibility is 1.25 statute miles. Runway visual range for runway 24 is 6200 feet. Nearby thunderstorms with snow and freezing fog. Clouds are broken at 300 feet agl, and overcast at 1000 ft agl. Temperature minus 2°C. Dewpoint minus 3°C. Altimeter setting is 30.06 in. Hg. Remarks...


    If the weather changes significantly from the last routine METAR report, then a special weather observation is taken, and is reported in an extra, unscheduled SPECI report. The SPECI has all the same data blocks as the METAR plus a plain language explanation of the special conditions.


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