Snow forecasts helped by research planes from Virginia | Maryland News
By KRISTIAN JAIME, The Daily Times
The wintry weather in the region has once again underscored the need for the Wallops Flight Facility P-3 aircraft to better visualize and predict potentially perilous weather conditions.
The specialized aircraft is part of the Investigation of Microphysics and Precipitation for Atlantic Coast-Threatening Storms (IMPACTS) mission, which began in January and is scheduled to end in late February.
The aircraft uses both the Wallops Flight Facility and the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.
In a recent social media post, NASA said that “ultimately, IMPACTS data will improve weather models and our ability to predict how much snow will fall and where from satellite data.” .
According to Lynn McMurdie, principal investigator for IMPACTS and an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, storms often form narrow structures called snow bands.
“One of the main goals of IMPACTS is to understand how these structures form, why some storms don’t have snow bands, and how snow bands can be used to predict snowfall,” McMurdie said. .
A second aircraft, the Wallops-based P-3 Orion, flies at altitudes up to 26,000 feet. Probes attached to the wings of the P-3 measure the size, shape and distribution of precipitation particles. Flying the P-3 at different altitudes allows the team to measure snow particles through the cloud, as well as the temperature, water vapor and other conditions under which they form.
Prior to recent mid-Atlantic snowstorms, it flew over the Ohio Valley on February 3.
According to Keith Koehler, spokesman for Wallops, the data collected during the many flights so far will be analyzed for years to come.
“Nor’easters travel up the East Coast and can dump several feet of snow, effectively shutting down cities,” said John Yorks, deputy principal investigator for IMPACTS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The regional goal is also to be better able to predict where these storms will bring snow and to what extent that could help cities better prepare for harsh winter conditions.
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