JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now – from below, on the receiving end of an all-day rain; and from above, where NASA’s flying laboratory is dissecting those rain clouds.
For more than six hours on a rainy Saturday, I rode along as a DC-8 jet bristling with electronic gear took radar and microwave measurements of the clouds hanging over the Olympic Peninsula. The flight is part of a months-long campaign called the Olympic Mountain Experiment, or OLYMPEX, which is being conducted by NASA and the University of Washington.
OLYMPEX is aimed at fine-tuning the algorithms that scientists use to translate the data coming from on-the-ground weather installations and satellites like the recently launched Global Precipitation Measurement Mission Core Observatory into weather and climate projections.
In the process, they’re addressing a scientific problem we’ve known about since Judy Collins first sang about clouds in the ’60s: We really don’t know clouds at all.