Equatorial spread F (ESF) was discovered almost a century ago using the first radio wave instrument designed to study the upper atmosphere: the ionosonde. The name came from the appearance of reflections from the normally smooth ionosphere, which were spread over the altitude frequency coordinates used by the instrument. Attempts to understand this phenomenon in any depth activated such tools as radars and in situ probes such as rockets and satellites in the 1960s. Over the next 15 years, these tools expanded our experimental understanding enormously, and new nonlinear theoretical methods developed in the late 1970s, which led to proposing a name revision from ESF to convective ionospheric storms. Interest in these phenomena continues, but a new, practical aspect has developed from the associated turbulence effects on communications (transionosphere) and navigation (GPS). The first satellite to specifically investigate this problem and the associated goal of predicting occurrences is under the umbrella of the Communications/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS). In contemplating the successful first years of the C/NOFS program, reviewing the state of the art in our knowledge of convective ionospheric storms seems appropriate. We also present some initial results of this satellite program. A major goal of the National Space Weather Program, and of C/NOFS, is predicting these storms, analogous to thunderstorms in the lower atmosphere due to their adverse effects on communication and navigation signals. Although ambitious, predictive capability is a noble and important goal in the current technological age and is potentially within our reach during the coming decade.
ASJC Scopus subject areas