Press Release

NASA Ames Coordinates Huge Hurricane Observation Campaign

By SpaceRef Editor
August 15, 2001
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Learning how to increase the warning time before Atlantic hurricanes make
landfall is a goal of some100 U.S. researchers from NASA and other agencies
who will a begin a 5-week campaign on Aug. 16.

Airborne researchers will fly above, around and through these weather
monsters, and also will use satellites, balloons, unpiloted aircraft and
ground-based instruments to gather hurricane data. Scientists from five
NASA centers, several government agencies and 10 universities are
cooperating to study tropical storms that erupt in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The Ames Earth Science Project Office is coordinating and managing the
overall project,” said Steve Hipskind, project manager at NASA’s Ames
Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Called the Fourth
Convection And Moisture EXperiment (CAMEX-4), the scientific campaign
begins Aug. 16 with a ‘media day’ for journalists at Jacksonville Naval Air
Station, FL. The project is scheduled to last until Sept. 24.

A major campaign goal is to produce more accurate hurricane predictions of
storm landfall to decrease the size of coastal evacuations and to increase
warning time. Researchers also are striving to reduce landfall track and
intensity forecast errors and improve precipitation forecasts to enable
more accurate inland flooding predictions.

“We will be making measurements in hurricanes with the NASA DC-8 and ER-2
aircraft out of Jacksonville Naval Air Station, FL,” Hipskind said. “In
addition, we will be flying a low-altitude uninhabited aerial vehicle
(drone airplane), the Aerosonde. There will be ground instrumentation
(several large weather radar and balloon soundings), as well as a large
theoretical and satellite science team. Our collaborators include the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Air Force
‘Hurricane Hunters,’ both of which provide operational aircraft
reconnaissance in hurricanes, as well as the NOAA Hurricane Research
Division and the United States Weather Research Program.” The National
Science Foundation is providing researchers from the National Center for
Atmospheric Research for the campaign.

Mike Craig of Ames is sharing project management responsibility with
Hipskind. Craig is doing much of the planning with Hipskind and taking the
field lead for the second half of the deployment. The large team of
researchers will select hurricanes and study them as they approach landfall
in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast of the United
States. Aircraft operations will be within a 1,725-mile radius (2,760 km)
of Jacksonville.

CAMEX-4 is focussed on the study of hurricane development, tracking,
intensification and landfall impacts using NASA-funded aircraft and surface
remote instruments. When possible, scientists will compare and validate
measurements with coincident observations from the QuikSCAT, Terra and
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellites. This study will yield high
spacial and temporal information of hurricane structure, dynamics and
motion. Scientists want to capture two complete “snapshots” of a hurricane.

The resulting data — when analyzed within the context of more traditional
aircraft, satellite and ground-based radar observations — should provide
additional insight to hurricane modelers and forecasters who strive to
improve hurricane predictions.

NASA Ames is responsible for assuring the airworthiness and flight safety
of the remotely piloted Aerosonde aircraft, and the overall operational
readiness and collaborative agreements for all of the participating
aircraft, according to Hipskind. Each Aerosonde weighs about 30 pounds
(less than 15 kg) and will fly between 500 ft. and 1,500 ft. (150 m – 450
m) in the hurricane’s winds to gather data and send it back to researchers.
Should one of the tiny uninhabited aircraft be sucked up to higher
altitudes, controllers would send a signal to destroy it to avoid a
collision with another aircraft.

“Ames also has participating scientists,” Hipskind said. “Paul Bui is the
principal investigator for the meteorological measurement system for the
DC-8 aircraft, and Lenny Pfister is the co-investigator on both Paul’s
experiment, as well as a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA)
laser hygrometer on the DC-8.” A hygrometer is an instrument that measures
humidity in the air.

Bui’s experiment includes three major systems on the DC-8 airplane that
normally flies at a medium altitude between 20,000 ft. and 40,000 ft. (
6,000 m – 12,000 m). The systems will measure air velocity to give
scientists a three-dimensional picture of wind directions. Bui also will
provide extremely accurate temperature measurements, critical to
understanding details of hurricane cloud formation.

While remote sensing of the hurricane environment is the primary objective
of CAMEX-4, separate flights will study thunderstorm structure,
precipitation systems and atmospheric water vapor profiles. The objective
of these flights is to improve precipitation estimates from microwave
instruments, particularly to validate NASA satellite measurements.

The NASA Earth Science Enterprise sponsors CAMEX-4. More CAMEX-4
information is on the Internet at: http://www.hurricanes.nasa.gov and
http://camex.msfc.nasa.gov

SpaceRef staff editor.