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NASA's Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes Mission in Costa Rica
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

Status Report: 05-115

NASA’s ER-2 airplane departs the San Juan Santa Maria airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, on July 6, 2005. NASA's ER-2 achieved a first July 17 when it flew a series of data-gathering missions above turbulent Hurricane Emily -- the most powerful storm the weather plane and its pilot, NASA pilot David Wright, have ever tackled.

"Hurricane Dennis was much kinder," Wright remarked after his flight. "Emily just didn't want me around."

Wright is NASA's chief pilot for the Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) mission in Costa Rica, the month-long research partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the birthing conditions for tropical storms, hurricanes and related phenomena. NASA and NOAA successfully flew multiple missions July 6 through 9 over Hurricane Dennis, and since July 16 have been tracking Emily -- a Category 4 hurricane -- using some of the world's most sophisticated high-flying and ground-based weather research equipment.

The ER-2 plane overflew Hurricane Emily July 17 around 4 a.m. EDT, heading west-northwest at 17-18 knots. Emily was on track at that time to reach the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico Monday evening. Emily is an extremely powerful storm, rated a borderline Category 4-5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which means the storm is producing sustained maximum wind speeds of approximately 150-155 mph.

The flight was the first in which the ER-2 has collected data in such an intense tropical system. Flying twice over the eye of the hurricane at 65,000 feet, the plane encountered pronounced turbulence -- an unusual occurrence, especially so early in the hurricane season. The eye-wall clouds powering Emily were extremely energetic and deep. Large amounts of lightning were detected by ER-2 instrumentation, as well as thunderclouds that towered to at least 60,000 feet. NASA instruments recorded unprecedented detail of the hurricane's vertical structure and precipitation levels.

TCSP participants include NOAA-HRD, five NASA centers, 10 American universities and partner agencies in Costa Rica. For more information about TCSP on the Web, visit:

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