NASA HOPES TO PREDICT THE NEXT PERFECT STORM
NASA scientists hope a new international field experiment based
along coastal regions of the North Atlantic Ocean will improve
weather predictions for those affected by powerful winter
Groups from NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.,
conducted aircraft-based experiments in November and December for
the 2003 Atlantic Thorpex Regional Campaign (ATReC). Scientists
will use the collected measurements to improve short-term forecasts
for winter storms that have high social and economic impacts. The
base of operations for the aircraft, NASA Dryden Flight Research
Center's ER-2 and the University of North Dakota's Cessna Citation
II, was Bangor, Maine.
"The color-coded image (red is heavy rain and blue is lighter
rain) above shows the "Perfect Storm" as it appeared from the
GOES-7 weather satellite on October 30, 1991. The center of the
storm was about 400 miles southeast of Cape Cod. NASA scientists
hope a new international field experiment in the North Atlantic
Ocean will improve winter weather predictions for coastal residents
of New England, Canadian Maritime Provinces, and others impacted by
Image courtesy NOAA
"In the late fall, the storm systems along the U.S. east coast
are very unique," said Bill Smith, Sr., a senior researcher at
Langley. "The tropical storms are still in the Atlantic but cold
air is also coming down from Canada."
As told in the book, "The Perfect Storm," by Sebastian Junger
and dramatized in the movie by the same name, two air masses (or
fronts) and a hurricane collided over the Atlantic Ocean to form
what the National Weather Service called the perfect storm.
The perfect storm that took the lives of the men at sea on the
Andrea Gail in October 1991 was an extraordinary example of
the severe winter weather that threatens the U.S. eastern
More common though are Nor'easters, massive storms created when
cold air from Canada collides with warm air over the Atlantic. They
can cause severe flooding and beach erosion, dump snow and ice over
the United States, cause hazardous conditions for commercial ships
and impact the weather in Europe.
Scientists from Thorpex, a global atmospheric research program,
and the European Composite Observing System program, also
participated in the ATReC field campaign. Researchers are tracking
winter storms across the North Atlantic using instruments on
aircraft, commercial ships sailing across the Atlantic, ground
stations and satellites. Scientists believe that taking extra
observations of winter storms and other storm-prone areas of the
atmosphere can provide the data necessary to reduce errors in
forecasting winter weather.
While Langley activities will support the goals of ATReC,
scientists will also use the field observations for other projects
and NASA's Aviation Safety Program.
Measurements taken by the Advanced Satellite Aviation Weather
Products (ASAP) applications team, managed by NASA Langley, will
also help improve aviation weather forecasts. Predictions of
weather harmful to aircraft safety are developed by the Federal
Aviation Administration's Aviation Weather Research Program and
supported by NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program.
The Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data and Reporting
instrument on the Citation aircraft will also collect measurements
of conditions such as temperature, icing and wind speed to test its
accuracy during the field experiment. NASA developed the instrument
under the Weather Accident Prevention project to increase the
weather information available to a pilot in a general aviation or
ATReC is the second in a series of ocean observation campaigns
to support THORPEX, a 10-year international research program
working with the World Meteorological Organization World Weather
Research Program. ATReC also is the largest of three field
experiments planned as part of the European Composite Observing
System Studies Program.
Some of the funding for these studies was provided by NASA's
Earth Science Enterprise, which is dedicated to understanding the
Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to
improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards.