Tropically Speaking, NASA Investigates Precipitation Shapes, Sizes for Severity
Rain drops are fat and snowflakes are fluffy, but why does it matter in terms of predicting severe storms? We've all seen fat rain drops, skinny rain drops, round hailstones, fluffy snowflakes and even ice needles. This summer, NASA researchers are going to get a look at just how much these shapes influence severe storm weather. To do it, they'll have to look inside the guts of some of the world's fiercest storms. NASA recently assembled a team of hurricane scientists from across the country to carry out high-altitude-aircraft surveillance to explore in detail how storms form, intensify and dissipate.

Earth scientists and engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have redesigned one of their instruments, the Advanced Microwave Precipitation Radiometer, or AMPR, to better observe the different shapes of precipitation. In August and September, AMPR will fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It will sit in the bomb bay of a WB-57 airplane, which is based at the NASA Johnson Space Center's Ellington Field in Houston. During these flights, AMPR researchers will test a new build the instrument is an upgraded version of the original AMPR built at NASA Marshall in the early 1990s and use it to participate in NASA's upcoming hurricane study, the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes field campaign, better known as GRIP.

The campaign involves three planes mounted with 14 different instruments, including AMPR. The instruments will all work together to create the most complete view of a hurricane to date. Researchers hope the hurricane campaign will help them answer some of nature's most perplexing questions. As tropical storms grow, they produce massive amounts of rain a key element in the development of full-scale hurricanes. Scientists will use AMPR along with the other instruments, such as data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite, to figure out just how hard it's raining inside these ferocious storms, and how much of that rain is associated with the production of ice during intensification.

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