Thursday, September 13, 2012

Studying Nadine

Nadine will not impact the US East Coast as it spins "harmlessly" in the Central Atlantic, being pulled northwestwards towards an eventual turn north and then northeast as our weekend cold front pushes into the Central Atlantic and helps pull this system northward.  It may reach hurricane intensity in the coming day or two as it spins around in the Atlantic but is not going to impact the US.

However, it is providing NOAA and NASA an opportunity to study the storm.  NASA is sending a high altitude drone aircraft into the Central Atlantic to study the storm, its evolution, and provide data that helps researchers learn more about the genesis and development of tropical cyclones.

The drone can reach altitudes of 60,000 feet, quite a bit higher than conventional aircraft can fly, and with high tech tools onboard it can sample data from the stratosphere down to the ocean's surface.  The drone's size is comparable to a 737 -- it's not small in scale by any stretch.

The flight to check out Nadine took 26 hours to complete, which would be the equivalent of four and a half flights from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, covering over 380,000 square miles of ocean surface.   This specific mission was to study the impacts of the Saharan Air Layer -- that dry layer of air that circulates west through the Atlantic in tandem with the trade winds as they blow down from the Sahara Desert in Africa -- and how the SAL impacts tropical cyclone development.   Conventional wisdom suggests that the SAL does impact tropical cyclone development by inhibiting thunderstorm development within tropical cyclones.

The Global Hawk, one of two NASA has based out of Wallops Island in Virginia, will be used again through early October and over the next two years as storms and wannabe disturbances fire up through the tropical Atlantic.  The planes are controlled from Wallops Island and Edwards Air Force Base in California, with each of the Hawks used for different purposes.  One measures environmental impacts (such as SAL), the other measures mesoscale impacts within thunderstorms and storms within the larger tropical system.