By Scott Padgett

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A secret weapon in the sky.  Southwest Airlines, UPS and the National Weather Service are testing new technology that could lead to more accurate forecasts.

While you’re sitting on the place relaxing and eating your peanuts, there’s a sensor on the side of the plane working overtime to make sure you and your family arrive at your destination on time.

The water vapor sensor is part of a pilot project with the National Weather Service.

Southwest Airlines took CBS 11 into their network operations center to explain how it works.

“Before you had to wait 12 hours to wait for new data to figure out what was going on.  So what this does is to tell us right then and there what is going on,” says Rick Curtis, a Southwest Airlines meteorologist.

Water vapor is key to forecasting things like thunderstorms and figuring out whether a winter storm will dump rain, snow, freezing rain or sleet.

“As you can imagine with almost 4,000 flights a day, there’s a lot of chances for things to be slow, delayed, cancelled that sort of thing,” says Curtis.  “What this info does is give us an essential yet another tool to help the decision makers here.”

Southwest and UPS share their data with the National Weather Service so it can adjust its forecasts as well.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how it will impact future travel,” says business traveler Mark Meshek.

Plans to expand the program are in the works.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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