Abstract Details

Title: The Mauna Kea Weather Center: Custom Atmospheric Forecasting Support for Mauna Kea

Authors: Steven Businger

Institute/Affiliation: University of Hawaii Department of Meteorology

Abstract Type: talk

Abstract Information:

The success of operations at Mauna Kea Observatories is strongly influenced by weather conditions. The Mauna Kea Weather Center, an interdisciplinary research program, was established in 1999 to develop and provide custom weather support for Mauna Kea Observatories.

The operational forecasting goals of the program are to facilitate the best possible use of favorable atmospheric conditions for scientific benefit and to ensure operational safety. During persistent clear periods, astronomical observing quality varies substantially due to changes in the vertical profiles of temperature, wind, moisture, and turbulence. Cloud and storm systems occasionally cause adverse or even hazardous conditions. A dedicated, daily, real-time mesoscale numerical modeling effort provides crucial forecast guidance in both cases.

Several key atmospheric variables are forecast with sufficient skill to be of operational and scientific benefit to the telescopes on Mauna Kea. Summit temperature forecasts allow mirrors to be set to the ambient temperature to reduce image distortion. Precipitable water forecasts allow infrared observations to be prioritized according to atmospheric opacity. Forecasts of adverse and hazardous conditions protect the safety of personnel and allow for scheduling of maintenance when observing is impaired by cloud.

The research component of the project continues to improve the accuracy and content of the forecasts. In particular, case studies have resulted in operational forecasts of astronomical observing quality, or seeing.