Inside the flying lab that’s probing rain clouds

Image: DC-8 view
The view out the window during NASA’s DC-8 flight on Saturday. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Rain-measuring mission gets a good, soggy start

Image: DC-8
Members of a NASA Social group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord get ready to tour a DC-8 plane that NASA is using to document rainfall on the Olympic Peninsula. (GeekWire photo: Alan Boyle)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — The weather forecast for the Olympic Peninsula is dark and rainy, and that’s putting the scientists behind NASA’s OLYMPEX campaign in a sunny mood.

“The really exciting thing that everyone’s talking about is, there’s this huge rain event that’s coming in,” says Rachael Kroodsma, an atmospheric scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, helping to get a specially outfitted DC-8 plane ready to fly into the storm this week. “There’s a lot of buzz about that. … It’s a good start to the campaign.”

Usually, bad weather is bad news.

Not for OLYMPEX, the Olympic Mountain Experiment.

Under the leadership of NASA and the University of Washington, the months-long effort is using aerial observations as well as a bevy of radars and rain gauges to validate orbital data from the Global Precipitation Measurement satellite, also known as GPM. The $3 million campaign is the latest of several field studies aimed at making sure the satellite readings reflect ground truth.

Get the full story on GeekWire.