NASA’s CPEX tackles a weather fundamental

NASA’s CPEX tackles a weather fundamental

Washington: A NASA-funded field campaign getting underway in Florida on May 25 has a real shot at improving meteorologists’ ability to answer some of the most fundamental questions about weather: Where will it rain? When? How much?

Called the Convective Processes Experiment (CPEX), the campaign is using NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory outfitted with five complementary research instruments designed and developed at NASA, read the NASA website.

The plane also will carry small sensors called dropsondes that are dropped from the plane and make measurements as they fall. Working together, the instruments will collect detailed data on wind, temperature and humidity in the air below the plane during the birth, growth and decay of convective clouds — clouds formed by warm, moist air rising off the subtropical waters around Florida.

“Convection is simply a column or bubble of warm air rising,” said CPEX Principal Investigator Ed Zipser of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. That rising air may become the seed of a rainstorm; in the tropics and subtropics, including the U.S. South, convection is the most common way for precipitation to form. Convective clouds can join together to form a major rainstorm or can even become a hurricane.

Even though convection is such a fundamental atmospheric process, the start of convection has proven difficult to predict.

Bjorn Lambrigtsen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a member of the CPEX science team, explained why: “Tropical convection flares up quickly. A thunderstorm pops up, does its thing, and goes away in an hour or so. And they’re not very large.”

Image Credits: Flickr user John Spade, CC BY 2.0

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