With an aim to better understand and improve ground-based predictions of hurricanes, two specially equipped NASA aircraft soon will take to the skies -- collecting high-altitude information about Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms.
The Convection and Moisture Experiment (CAMEX) mission is scheduled for August and September. Results from the mission may increase warning time -- saving lives and property -- and decrease the size of evacuation areas -- saving money -- while giving scientists a better understanding of these dramatic weather phenomena.
CAMEX will yield high-resolution information on hurricane structure, dynamics and motion, leading to improved hurricane prediction. Results also will be used to validate existing measurements from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission of hurricanes and tropical storms and to develop mathematical models for future Earth science missions.
Led by the Atmospheric Dynamics and Remote Sensing program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, the experiment unites eight NASA centers, other government weather researchers and the university community for a coordinated, multi-agency and -university Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm study.
"We only know what goes on in the bottom half of a hurricane -- from sea level to 27,000 feet," said atmospheric expert, Ms. Robbie Hood of the Global Hydrology and Climate Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "With all of the agencies and the university community working together, we now can learn about these storms from top to bottom -- and hopefully improve hurricane prediction."
When a hurricane or tropical storm erupts in the Atlantic, a NASA Dryden Flight Research Center DC-8 -- equipped with instruments to measure the storm's structure, environment and changes in intensity and tracking -- will fly into the storm at 35,000-40,000 feet.
At the same time, a specially equipped Dryden ER-2 -- a high-altitude research plane -- will soar above the storm at 65,000 feet. The modified U-2 will measure the storm's structure and the surrounding atmosphere that steers the storm's movement.
On the ground, the storm research team will launch weather balloons and monitor land-based sensors to validate the high-altitude measurements taken by instruments aboard the planes.
Hood and her team plan to fly the NASA planes in conjunction with scheduled storm flights of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that will take off from MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla., and the "Hurricane Hunters" -- the U.S. Air Force's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.
The Air Force's Hurricane Hunters and NOAA routinely fly into tropical storms and hurricanes to determine their location, motion, strength and size. Information gathered by the two organizations is used to predict the potential strength and size of the storms as well as landfall.
In addition to providing Doppler radars on each research plane, NASA for the first time will bring state-of-the-art airborne instruments to measure moisture and wind fields around the hurricanes under observation.
NOAA flies a WP-3 "Orion" -- a four engine turboprop plane -- into storms at altitudes below 27,000 feet. And the Hurricane Hunters fly a WC-130 "Hercules" -- also a four-engine turboprop craft -- at 5,000-10,000 feet.
"We will analyze the high-altitude storm information within the context of more traditional low-level aircraft observations, and satellite and ground-based radar observations," said Hood. "This new information should provide insight to hurricane modelers -- forecasters who continually strive to improve hurricane predictions."
Scientific instruments provided by Marshall to be flown on the Dryden aircraft will be augmented by instruments from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif,; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; and Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
The hurricane study is part of NASA's Earth Science enterprise to better understand the total Earth system and the effects of natural and human-induced changes on the global environment.
Materials provided by NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center--Space Sciences Laboratory. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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