Tag Archives: weather

Storms on Saturn baffle scientists

The uncertainty of science: Scientists have identified a new type of storm on Saturn, and they don’t understand the weather processes that produced it.

Until now, astronomers had seen only two kinds of Saturnian storms: relatively small storms about 2,000 kilometers across that appear as bright clouds for a few days and Great White Spots that are 10 times as large and last for months. The newly spotted weather disturbance was a series of four midsize storms. Each was several thousand kilometers across and lasted between about 1.5 weeks and about seven months.

It appears that these midsize storms don’t fit any of their present theories about the formation of storms on Saturn.

However, for any scientist at this time to suggest that any theory about the storms on gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn can explain things is for that scientist to reveal themselves to be arrogant fools. We simply do not know anything about the deep atmospheres and vast climates of such planets. For example, we have yet to send a satellite to either planet devoted entirely to studying their atmospheres. And considering the size of these planets, such research would require a lot more than one orbiter to get a global picture. And it would require decades of coverage to get a long term picture.

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Satellites map out Earth’s Great Whirl

Using more than two decades of satellite data scientists have mapped out the yearly evolution of the
Great Whirl, a gigantic weather formation that routinely forms off the coast of Somalia each year, lasts for more than half the year, and is closely linked to India’s annual monsoon season.

Using 23 years of satellite data, the new findings show the Great Whirl is larger and longer-lived than scientists previously thought. At its peak, the giant whirlpool is, on average, 275,000 square kilometers (106,000 square miles) in area and persists for about 200 days out of the year.

More than being just a curiosity, the Great Whirl is closely connected to the monsoon that drives the rainy season in India. Monsoon rains fuel India’s $2 trillion agricultural economy, but how much rain falls each year is notoriously difficult to forecast. If researchers can use their new method to discern a pattern in the Great Whirl’s formation, they might be able to better predict when India will have a very dry or very wet season compared to the average.

Below the fold is a short video showing the Whirl’s behavior during 2000. It appears that the Great Whirl is an atmospheric eddy formed by the prevailing east winds as they hit the coast of Somalia.
» Read more

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The InSight Martian weather station

InSight’s weather station is now providing daily weather updates to the public.

Starting today, the public can get a daily weather report from NASA’s InSight lander.

This public tool includes stats on temperature, wind and air pressure recorded by InSight. Sunday’s weather was typical for the lander’s location during late northern winter: a high of 2 degrees Fahrenheit (-17 degrees Celsius) and low of -138 degrees Fahrenheit (-95 degrees Celsius), with a top wind speed of 37.8 mph (16.9 m/s) in a southwest direction.

This daily weather data can be found here. For the weather from Curiosity, go here. Weekly global weather reports from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are found here.

Comparing the weather at the two landers, you will notice that it is generally warmer at InSight. This is not surprising, as Curiosity is climbing a mountain, and is now at a much higher elevation.

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Do tornadoes form top-down or down-up?

The uncertainty of science: New data now suggests that tornadoes might form from the ground upward, not from the clouds downward, as previously and generally accepted believed.

Houser and a team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma happened to be monitoring the storm with a new type of mobile Doppler radar system that collected tornado wind speeds every 30 seconds. Afterwards, Anton Seimon, a geographer at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina who had chased the El Reno storm, collected hundreds of still photos and videos of the epic twister from citizens and fellow storm chasers.

When Houser compared her radar data with images collected by Seimon, she noticed something odd. The images clearly showed a visible tornado at the ground several minutes before her radar picked it up. Puzzled, Houser went back through her radar data and analyzed the data taken at the ground. It is typically difficult to get good radar measurements at or near the ground, but Houser and her team had deployed their instrument on a slight rise and there were no obstructions between them and the tornado, so this time, they had data good enough to work with.

She found clear evidence of rotation at the ground before there was rotation at higher altitudes. Houser then examined other sets of tornado data and found that in many cases, tornado-strength rotation develops at or near the ground first, rather than starting in the cloud itself. In all four datasets she analyzed, none of the tornadoes formed following the classical “top-down” process.

What is really interesting about this research is that it shows that at least some tornadoes develop from the ground up, something no one predicted. The research also illustrates that the formation of tornadoes is very complicated and that we still do not understand it, in the slightest.

While the researchers here try to imply that this data also proves that all tornadoes must form from the ground up, they are wrong. The data shows that some appear to form from the bottom up, but this does not prove that others might do the opposite. We simply do not know enough yet.

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House committee approves new space weather bill

The House Science Committee yesterday approved new space weather bill that would shift responsibility for coordinating the government’s space weather observation capabilities to the National Space Council, while also creating a pilot commercial program for launch weather satellites.

It appears there was some heavy political maneuvering involved with this bill, as there was a late switch of language that changed its focus.

The new text has a strong focus on the private sector. In the policy section, for example, it explicitly states that “space weather observation and forecasting are not exclusive functions of the Federal Government” and the government “should, as practicable, obtain space weather data and services through contracts with the commercial sector, when the data and services are available, cost-effective, and add value.” The bill requires the Secretary of Commerce to establish a pilot program for obtaining space weather data from the private sector that appears analogous to NOAA’s commercial weather data pilot program.

The Senate will still have to review and approve this new bill.

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Mars’ seasonal dust storms

Data from the many Martian orbiters since 1997 have allowed scientists to roughly outline a seasonal pattern of dust storms on Mars.

Most Martian dust storms are localized, smaller than about 1,200 miles (about 2,000 kilometers) across and dissipating within a few days. Some become regional, affecting up to a third of the planet and persisting up to three weeks. A few encircle Mars, covering the southern hemisphere but not the whole planet. Twice since 1997, global dust storms have fully enshrouded Mars. The behavior of large regional dust storms in Martian years that include global dust storms is currently unclear, and years with a global storm were not included in the new analysis.

They have also found three types of regional dust storms, all of which appear to occur each Martian year.

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India wins contract to launch private weather satellites

The competition heats up: The first two satellites in the first private weather satellite constellation will be launched on India’s PSLV rocket.

With 12 satellites on orbit, PlanetiQ will collect approximately 34,000 “occultations” per day, evenly distributed around the globe with high-density sampling over both land and water. Each occultation is a vertical profile of atmospheric data with very high vertical resolution, comprised of measurements less than every 200 meters from the Earth’s surface up into the ionosphere. The data is similar to that collected by weather balloons, but more accurate, more frequent and on a global scale.

“The world today lacks sufficient data to feed into weather models, especially the detailed vertical data that is critical to storm prediction. That’s why we see inaccurate or ambiguous forecasts for storms like Hurricane Joaquin, which can put numerous lives at risk and cost businesses millions of dollars due to inadequate preparation or risk management measures,” McCormick said. “Capturing the detailed vertical structure of the atmosphere from pole to pole, especially over the currently under-sampled oceans, is the missing link to improving forecasts of high-impact weather.”

This project is a win-win for aerospace. Not only will this weather constellation help shift ownership of weather satellites from government to private ownership, the company’s decision to use India’s PSLV rocket increases the competition in the launch industry.

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Congress moves to require NOAA to use private weather satellites

The competition heats up: The House Science Committee has approved a bill that would require NOAA to begin using private satellites to gather weather data.

NOAA officials, most recently at a Feb. 12 hearing of the House Science environment subcommittee, have long said the agency is open to buying space-based weather data from aspiring commercial providers, so long as the companies can certify their data are up to NOAA standards. Currently this is impossible because NOAA has published no standards.

That would change if the Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act of 2015 (H.R. 1561) becomes law. The measure sets a legal timetable for NOAA to publish the standards and competitively select at least one provider to sell the agency data to determine whether it can be easily folded into the National Weather Service’s forecasting models.

Watch what they do, not what they say. NOAA might claim it would use private providers, but without providing those standards it has given itself an easy way to reject everyone, which is exactly what they have done for years. This bill would force the issue.

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Privately-built weather satellite constellation to be built

The competition heats up: A private company, dubbed Spire, has announced its intention to launch a 20-satellite constellation of weather satellites, all cubesats, by the end of 2015.

Spire raised $25 million in Series A funding during the summer of 2014, bringing its total amount to $29 million. The company already has customers in a variety of verticals, but Platzer said weather was planned to be a focus from the company’s inception.

…With the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facing an impending weather data gap, an increasing amount of focus has been placed on leveraging commercial options as well. Last year NOAA issued a Request for Information (RFI) on RO that piqued interest from the commercial sector. Congress has also urged the agency to leverage private sector capabilities.

For years I argued that there is no justification for the federal government to provide free weather satellite data to private companies like the Weather Channel. There is more than enough profit to be made tracking and predicting the weather for these companies to launch their own orbiting networks, just as the television and communications industries do. Thus, it is good to see a new start-up take advantage of this need and to push to make a business out of it.

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The weather is finally changing on Titan

New Cassini images of Titan have spotted the appearance of clouds above the planet’s northern seas, suggesting the overdue onset of the summer storms that climate models have predicted.

For several years after Cassini’s 2004 arrival in the Saturn system, scientists frequently observed cloud activity near Titan’s south pole, which was experiencing late summer at the time. Clouds continued to be observed as spring came to Titan’s northern hemisphere. But since a huge storm swept across the icy moon’s low latitudes in late 2010, only a few small clouds have been observed anywhere on the icy moon. The lack of cloud activity has surprised researchers, as computer simulations of Titan’s atmospheric circulation predicted that clouds would increase in the north as summer approached, bringing increasingly warm temperatures to the atmosphere there.

“We’re eager to find out if the clouds’ appearance signals the beginning of summer weather patterns, or if it is an isolated occurrence,” said Elizabeth Turtle, a Cassini imaging team associate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. “Also, how are the clouds related to the seas? Did Cassini just happen catch them over the seas, or do they form there preferentially?”

Any conclusions drawn at this time about the seasonal weather patterns of Titan must be considered highly uncertain, since we only have been observing the planet for a period that only covers one very short portion of its very long 30 year-long year.

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The weather on an exoplanet: Cloudy and clear.

The weather on an exoplanet: Cloudy and clear.

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a sizzling, Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b. The planet is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. Previous studies from Spitzer have resulted in temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world.

This result is cool, but no one should take it too seriously. They have detected evidence of that to the scientists “suggest” clouds, but no one really knows.

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A Florida university has broken ground on a new hurricane simulation machine capable of recreating category 5 hurricanes in three dimensions.

A Florida university has broken ground on a new hurricane simulation machine capable of recreating category 5 hurricanes in three dimensions.

The facility will not only allow scientists to study hurricanes, they will also be able to test the engineering of objects trying to survive them.

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Forecasting hurricanes

NOAA today announced its prediction for the upcoming Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, calling for between 9 and 15 tropical storms in 2012, with 4 to 8 becoming full blown hurricanes. The NOAA release can be seen here.

To me, the range of the prediction is so wide it really doesn’t mean anything. Moreover, I wonder about the reliability of these predictions.
» Read more

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Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

Scientists have found that the structure of Titan’s atmosphere appears to change daily and seasonally, much like the Earth’s.

“The most interesting point is that their model shows the presence of two different boundaries, the lower one caused by the daily heating and cooling of the surface – and varying in height during the day – and the higher one caused by the seasonal change in global air circulation,” commented Paulo Penteado from the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Science at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. According to [Benjamin Charnay from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris], this link between the lower atmosphere’s layers and the moon’s daily and seasonal cycle has never been seen on another moon or planet besides the Earth.

One caveat: the results are based upon a computer climate model. Though this model was tweaked based on actual data, that data remains slim and incomplete.

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