January 7, 2014

Predicting the Weather


Shelby: Were you freezing cold going to school this morning? Well, you are not alone! More than half of the country is experiencing a deep and dangerous freeze. Right, Scott?

Scott: Yeah. And to learn more about severe weather like this, a special team from NASA is taking to the skies in a fully equipped flying lab. Check this out.

This is NASA scientist Jack Dibb, taking a flight from Ellington Field near Houston, and he is hoping to find the perfect storm high over the Gulf of Mexico. His team is flying this DC-8 in order to better study cloud formations. Dibb says these clouds remain a mystery to scientists. They contain clues that can help understand changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Jack Dibb: We understand, sort of, the fundamental physics of clouds and all the different kinds of clouds but not well enough to be able to accurately model them over and over again.

Scott: Data gathered on a flight like this can help scientists better predict when and where the next storm will hit.

2013 seemed like the year of extreme weather, from the typhoon in the Philippines to record tornadoes in the Midwest to some of the largest wildfires on record in California. And overall, 2013 was the seventh warmest year on record. So more than understanding weather patterns, scientists are also collecting info to help build models of what climate change may look like.

Dibb: Well, when you start getting into the tricky discussion about climate change and whether it’s real or not, what should we do about it, those arguments, inside the science arena, are incredibly reliant on models. We have an obligation to make the models better.

Scott: The team spent eight hours in the air, and their flight path ended up looking like this. And it is one of thirty-five planned this year to help find answers about our changing weather – answers that, for now, are still up in the air.


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