The need to nowcast and forecast scintillation for the support of operational systems has been recently identified by the interagency National Space Weather Program. This issue is addressed in the present paper in the context of nighttime irregularities in the equatorial ionosphere that cause intense amplitude and phase scintillations of satellite signals in the VHF/UHF range of frequencies and impact satellite communication, Global Positioning System navigation, and radar systems. Multistation and multifrequency satellite scintillation observations have been used to show that even though equatorial scintillations vary in accordance with the solar cycle, the extreme day-to-day variability of unknown origin modulates the scintillation occurrence during all phases of the solar cycle. It is shown that although equatorial scintillation events often show correlation with magnetic activity, the major component of scintillation is observed during magnetically quiet periods. In view of the day-to-day variability of the occurrence and intensity of scintillating regions, their latitude extent, and their zonal motion, a regional specification and short-term forecast system based on real-time measurements has been developed. This system, named the Scintillation Network Decision Aid, consists of two latitudinally dispersed stations, each of which uses spaced antenna scintillation receiving systems to monitor 250-MHz transmissions from two longitudinally separated geostationary satellites. The scintillation index and zonal irregularity drift are processed on-line and are retrieved by a remote operator on the Internet. At the operator terminal the data are combined with an empirical plasma bubble model to generate three-dimensional maps of irregularity structures and two-dimensional outage maps for the region.
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